Gallant to Blinken: We speak in one voice; your visit sends a clear message to Iran

Defense minister calls for more security coordination with regional US allies; in his meeting with top US diplomat, Lapid stresses importance of protecting democratic institutions

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Jerusalem, Jan. 31, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Jerusalem, Jan. 31, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool Photo via AP)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday morning that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit sent a “clear message” that the United States and Israel stand together against the threat from Iran.

“Your visit comes at a critical time, and it sends a clear message to our adversaries as well as our partners in the region: the US and Israel are united in the need to face Iran and anyone who threatens peace and stability,” Gallant said to Blinken, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

“We speak in one voice when we say that Iran must not gain a nuclear weapon and that we will not tolerate Iranian aggression,” Gallant said.

According to the Defense Ministry, Gallant briefed Blinken with a focus on Iran and its proxies in Lebanon and Syria.

Gallant also referenced the recent Juniper Oak military exercise, the two allies’ largest-ever joint exercise in Israel and the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The exercise was widely seen as a message to Iran, but American officials said the live-fire drills did not include mockups of Iranian targets or of any other adversary. Israel’s Channel 12 news had reported, without citing a source, that part of the drill included American bombers targeting a simulated Iranian nuclear facility.

Israeli and American navy vessels are seen in the Mediterranean Sea, during the Juniper Oak 2023 drill, January 25, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Gallant called for increased defense cooperation with Arab allies — and likely countries like Saudi Arabia — under America’s aegis, saying the “next step is to work together to strengthen the regional architecture and broaden our cooperation with existing and potential partners in facing common challenges.”

The ministry said the two also discussed the recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks and Israel’s counterterrorism operations.

In brief comments before their meeting, Blinken said he agreed with Gallant’s comments that “we are united.”

Protesters against the proposed changes to the justice system at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on January 21, 2023 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“Our commitment to Israel’s security remains, and will remain, ironclad,” Blinken said. “I appreciate this opportunity to exchange some ideas and thoughts with the defense minister. We have a lot on our hands in this moment.”

Blinken also met with opposition leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday morning. The two developed a close relationship during Lapid’s time as foreign minister and prime minister before Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.

Lapid’s comments after the meeting focused on shared democratic values. Blinken stressed the same point during his public statements alongside Netanyahu Monday evening, and Lapid has spoken out against the reform agenda of the hardline government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets opposition leader Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, January 31, 2023 (Screen grab/GPO)

“The special ties between the US and Israel are not only based on mutual interests, but first and foremost on shared values of democratic principles and protecting democratic institutions,” said Lapid.

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a series of dramatic reforms that would increase government control over the judiciary. The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

“The foundation of these values represents a fundamental element of our national security and our economy, and we must do everything in order to protect these relations,” Lapid continued.

Blinken and Lapid also discussed advancing the Negev Forum, an initiative that the two put together last year in Israel thatis becoming an important gathering for America’s allies in the region.

Blinken is slated to travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, and to hold a press conference in Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

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