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Gantz meets US defense chief, says Iran is ‘playing poker with a bad hand’

Pentagon chief Austin says US prepared for ‘other options’ against Iran if diplomacy fails to block nuclear weapons program

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met on Thursday with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon to discuss bilateral ties, the Iranian threat and Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Gantz’s office said the defense chiefs held a “meaningful discussion that reflected the historic bond and strategic ties between the US and Israel.

“The ministers discussed emerging challenges and opportunities in the region, with a particular focus on the developing challenge vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program and its regional aggression,” the statement said.

In his remarks at the meeting, Gantz said that Iran “is not just a threat to our physical security” but “a concrete threat to our way of life and our shared values.”

He added: “In its aspirations to become a hegemon, Iran seeks to destroy all traces of freedom, human dignity and peace in the Middle East and beyond. The nuclear program is a means to its hegemonic goals.”

Gantz stated that in talks with world powers, “Iran is playing poker with a bad hand and it’s playing on time.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Austin said the US was “completely aligned in our commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“We share Israel’s deep concerns about the Iranian government’s destabilizing actions, including its support for terrorism and its missile program, and its alarming nuclear advances,” Austin said. “The president has made clear that if the policy fails, we are prepared to turn to other options.”

The two also discussed the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) “and the critical need for the replenishment of Israel’s air defense systems,” according to the Defense Ministry statement.

“Israel’s QME will not only guarantee the safety of our citizens, but will also enable us to leverage the positive trends in the region,” Gantz said.

Gantz followed the discussion with a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The two discussed further developing ties between Israel and the other signatories to the Abraham Accords normalization agreements signed last year, and the possibility of normalizing relations with new regional partners, Gantz’s office said.

A US spokesperson said the pair discussed Iran, Israeli security, and that Blinken had “reiterated the Administration’s belief that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, in Washington, December 9, 2021. (Shmulik Almany/GPO)

Gantz flew to Washington on Wednesday for meetings with top US military leaders, as troubled nuclear talks resumed in Vienna.

Talks in Vienna on Thursday ended an hour after resuming following a few days’ pause, with tensions high after Tehran made demands last week that European countries strongly criticized.

The meeting of all the deal’s remaining signatories — Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — was chaired by European Union diplomat Enrique Mora.

The United States has participated indirectly in the ongoing talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

Last week’s talks were the first in over five months, a gap caused by a new hard-line government assuming power in Tehran. European diplomats last week urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after the Iranian delegation made numerous demands that other parties to the accord deemed unacceptable.

The accord sealed in Vienna in 2015, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was meant to rein in Iran’s nuclear program in return for loosened economic sanctions.

Following the US decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions against Iran, Tehran has ramped up its nuclear program again by enriching uranium beyond the thresholds allowed in the agreement. Iran has also restricted monitors from the UN atomic watchdog from accessing its nuclear facilities, raising concerns about what the country is doing out of view.

Meanwhile, Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said.

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