US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the US and Israel need to ensure that their alliance is “closer than ever” as Mideast security challenges grow more complicated.
Israel is “a model for the world, and the relationship between our two countries… is as strong as it’s ever been,” Hagel said ahead of a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “This is a difficult and dangerous time. This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever. I’m committed to continue to strengthen this relationship… and as you know, one of the main reasons I’m here is to do that.”
Hagel said that during his visit, his first in Israel as secretary of defense, he had “very good conversations” with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and President Shimon Peres.
“I was able to take a long tour up in the north and the eastern borders here, and once again it reminds me of the dangers and difficulties and challenges,” he added.
In his remarks, Netanyahu thanked the Obama administration for deepening ties over the past four years, and told Hagel that he was “absolutely confident that we [will] continue to further strengthen this [cooperation] under your stewardship of the American defense establishment.”
The prime minister said he appreciated the administration’s recent statements in support of Israel’s determination to do whatever it takes to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its arming of terrorists worldwide are developments Israel “cannot accept, and as you [Hagel] and President Obama have repeatedly said, Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu told Hagel.
On Monday, Hagel and Ya’alon announced an unprecedented sale of advanced military equipment to Israel, including radar systems, missiles, refueling planes and V-22 planes.
According to Hagel, the sale ensures Israel will maintain “military superiority over any enemy state, non-state or coalition,” and expands the IAF’s ability to operate far from the country.
Hagel, who has been in Israel since Sunday, was scheduled to hold talks in Jordan on Tuesday afternoon, before departing for Saudi Arabia.
Aaron Kalman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.