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Gantz asks Pentagon chief to bolster anti-Iran coalition in Mideast

In DC, defense minister calls for array of actions against Tehran, reiterates commitment to Ukraine; US counterpart raises concern over harm to civilians in West Bank, Jerusalem

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, meets with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on May 19, 2022. (Shmulik Almany/GPO)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, meets with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on May 19, 2022. (Shmulik Almany/GPO)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Thursday in Washington with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for talks on countering the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear-armed state, as well as its regional influence.

“Action should be taken against the Iranian aggression in a number of ways, including strengthening the US-led coalition in the region,” Gantz said, according to a statement from his office following their meeting.

Gantz told Austin there was an opportunity to make a “significant change in the region” by strengthening the regional coalition of countries acting under US leadership and cooperating with additional Middle East countries against Iran.

The defense minister also told Austin of Israel’s commitment “to stand with Ukraine.”

Gantz noted the sending of humanitarian aid, the mediation led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and the non-offensive equipment that Israel has supplied while maintaining its operational security needs in the region, the statement said.

Bennett has played a role in mediating between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but is also mindful of Israel’s need to preserve its ability to operate against military targets in Moscow’s ally Syria.

Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers during the demolishing of the house of Omar Jaradat, one of the Palestinian attackers from the Homesh terror attack, near the West Bank city of Jenin, May 7, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Gantz expressed his gratitude for the recent passing of a US spending bill that included a $4.2 billion aid package for Israel and Washington’s preservation of Israel’s military superiority in the region, the statement said. The defense minister thanked Austin for “his personal commitment to fortifying Israel’s security.”

According to a readout from Austin’s office, the defense secretary “reiterated the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

Austin also lauded Gantz on Israel’s deepening ties with countries across the region along with the increasing opportunities for military cooperation enabled by Israel’s transition into the US Central Command area of responsibility, the Defense Department said.

The two also discussed tensions with Palestinians and Israeli efforts to stem a wave of terror attacks that have claimed the lives of 20 people since mid-March, according to Gantz’s office.

Gantz recently vowed to use “every means possible” to root out the deeper causes of terrorism in Israel, including incitement.

For his part, Austin “underscored the importance of de-escalating tensions and protecting civilians in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” his office said. “Austin reiterated the administration’s support for a two-state solution that provides dignity and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

According to a statement issued by an Israeli government official on condition of anonymity, Austin raised his concerns regarding the Israeli police’s conduct during the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh when officers attacked mourners, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.

On Wednesday, he told US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that Israel would take the measures necessary to defend its citizens and sovereignty while guaranteeing that Israel’s defense establishment would continue its policy of promoting “confidence-building measures” for Palestinians who are not involved in terrorist activity.

The meeting at the Pentagon was attended by Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog; the director of the Defense Ministry Political-Military Bureau, Dror Shalom; and the defense minister’s military secretary, Yaki Dolf.

Gantz met with Sullivan in the White House Wednesday.

According to a readout issued by the Defense Ministry, the meeting focused mainly on Iran’s progression in its nuclear program as negotiations stalled in Vienna, alongside Tehran’s “destabilizing regional activities.”

On Tuesday, before his visit, Gantz warned that “the price for tackling the Iranian challenge on a global or regional level is higher than it was a year ago and lower than it will be in a year,” noting that Iran was just a “few weeks” away from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a bomb.

Iran also announced earlier this week the inauguration of a production line for manufacturing a new military drone, the Ababil-2, in Tajikistan, in a move seen as an effort to balance the power between Sunni and Shiite players in the region.

Meeting with Sullivan, the defense minister “emphasized the need to work closely and prepare for any future scenario,” the readout said, noting “Israel’s excellent defense cooperation with the US.”

According to a Tuesday report by Channel 13, the US Air Force will participate in a large-scale Israeli drill later this month simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as part of the broader Chariots of Fire exercise.

Unprecedented Israel-US aerial collaboration in a drill simulating a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is seen as a potential message to Iran amid the long-stalled negotiations in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which Israel opposes, warning it would lead to “a more violent, more volatile Middle East.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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