AP — On a hilltop lookout near Israel’s border with Lebanon, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered personal assurances Monday that the US will help Israel counter Iranian support for the terror group Hezbollah.
He called it one example of how the US can support the Jewish state in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal.
Carter visited Hussein Lookout, with a sweeping view of the border as well as the Golan Heights, in an effort to emphasize US concern about a range of threats that face Israel. These include tens of thousands of short-, medium- and longer-range Hezbollah rockets and missiles in southern Lebanon that could hit Israeli villages and cities.
“Hezbollah is sponsored of course by Iran, which is why the United States will continue to help Israel counter Iranian malign influence in the region,” Carter told reporters after receiving an Israeli security briefing in the area.
Carter hit the same theme later at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. They used the appearance to make a public show of unity at a point in US-Israeli relations heavily strained by Israeli’s opposition to the Iran deal.
The agreement, reached between US-led world powers and Iran, puts limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting crippling economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Israeli leaders have complained that the deal does nothing to address Iran’s support for hostile anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They also say the deal does not have sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from reaching the capability to make nuclear weapons.
Ya’alon warmly praised Carter’s track record of support for Israel, while acknowledging the split over the Iran deal.
“We greatly disagree when it comes to the agreement with Iran and fear for the future in the aftermath of its signing,” Ya’alon said. “Yet we discuss this issue in a fully open manner, alongside many other issues of great importance.”
He called the relationship with the United States a “core pillar” of Israel’s defense, and Carter promised that the Obama administration would not waver from an “ironclad commitment” to ensuring Israel’s military edge in the region. He said that next year Israel will become the first US ally to fly the new US F-35 warplane.
Carter acknowledged tensions over the Iran deal.
“Friends can disagree about whether it will work,” he said, “and we will be watching Iran very closely to see. But there’s no disagreement about the ultimate objective. We cannot let Iran have nuclear weapons. And there’s no disagreement about the threats Israel sees every day from Iran’s destabilizing activities, from terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas and [the Islamic State group.]”
Carter said Israel can count on the US to do whatever is necessary to ensure its security, and he ticked off a list of areas in which the two countries are cooperating, including missile defense.
“If more is needed in the future, then we will do more,” he said.
Ya’alon suggested that more will, indeed, be required. He said Israel believes Iran will be strengthened by the nuclear deal, and that Iranian proxies like Hezbollah “are going to get more money” as a result. He also said the civil war in Syria adds to instability on Israel’s borders.
Carter is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called the Iran deal a “historic mistake.”
Afterward the US defense chief will fly to Jordan to consult with government officials there and visit a base used in the war against the Islamic State group.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.