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Gantz expected to seek $1 billion Iron Dome restock during snap US visit

Defense minister, who will meet with Lloyd Austin and Jake Sullivan, touts Biden administration as true friend of Israel after Netanyahu warns he’s prepared for clash over Iran

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will take off Wednesday for a snap trip to Washington for talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin and US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, his office announced Tuesday.

Gantz during the visit will submit a billion-dollar request to the Pentagon to replenish the arsenal of the Iron Dome missile defense system, following the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups, US Senator Lindsey Graham revealed at a Tuesday press conference while visiting Israel.

“Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives,” Graham said. “I would imagine that the administration would say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress.”

As a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced last month, Biden pledged to replenish Israel’s stock of missiles for its defense system, bucking calls from some progressive lawmakers to reduce or end military aid to Israel.

Gantz is also expected to present Israel’s plan for ensuring long-term quiet in Gaza after the recent fighting there between Israel and the Hamas terror group, the Defense Ministry said.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to reporters on the roof of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, June 1, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Time of Israel)

The Thursday meetings will include a “strategic dialogue” on the talks for the US to rejoin the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s program, and how to maintain Israel’s military superiority and regional stability, the Defense Ministry added.

The White House and Pentagon confirmed Gantz’s visit but did not offer information on what the focus of the discussions would be.

Gantz has taken a softer approach in his dealings with the US than Netanyahu, who has not shied away from stating that a US re-entry to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 Iran deal is formally known, would lead to a divide between Israel and the US.

Speaking at Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony for new Mossad chief David Barnea, Netanyahu insisted that if pushed to choose between a lack of friction with the US or defending the country against the nuclear threat from Iran, Israel will choose to confront the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu said Israel must “do everything, but everything, in order to ensure that under no circumstance Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons.”

The US insists that both countries have the same goal of preventing a nuclear Iran and that a return to the JCPOA is the best first step to ensure that aim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a ceremony to hand over control of the Mossad intelligence agency from outgoing director Yossi Cohen to his replacement David Barnea, June 1, 2021. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

In a video statement released after Netanyahu’s remarks, Gantz hailed the Biden administration as true friends of Israel.

“The United States was and will continue to be Israel’s most important ally in maintaining its security and security superiority in the region… Israel has and will have no better partner than the US. Even if there are disagreements, they will be solved behind closed doors and not with defiant rhetoric that could harm Israel’s security,” he said.

“Iran is a threat to regional stability and world peace. It is a country that instigates terrorism and is advancing a nuclear program that is dangerous to the State of Israel,” Gantz continued. “Still, Israel is the strongest country in the region.”

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