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US defense chief meets Gantz in 1st visit to Israel by Biden cabinet member

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, meets with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, at Israel's military headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 11, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, meets with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, at Israel's military headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 11, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin kicks off his two-day visit in Israel with a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Following the meeting, Gantz says the two had discussed the threat posed to Israel by Iran and its nuclear program, as well as plans to ensure the Jewish state’s military superiority in the region.

Austin is the first member of US President Joe Biden’s administration to pay an official visit to Israel, and this is the first official visit to the Jewish state by an American secretary of defense since 2017. This is also the first official visit by a foreign dignitary to Israel’s defense headquarters, known as the Kirya, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“During our conversations I emphasized to Secretary Austin that Israel views the United States as a full partner across all operational theaters, not least — Iran,” Gantz says.

“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the State of Israel,” he says.

Austin refrains from addressing the Iranian issue directly in his official remarks, simply saying that he and Gantz had discussed “regional security challenges.”

“I was tremendously pleased on our discussion of a number of security issues which are important to our two countries,” Austin says.

“I appreciated hearing Minister Gantz’s perspectives about the challenges in this region,” he adds.

The meeting comes amid ongoing talks in Vienna regarding a return to the 2015 nuclear deal by both Iran and the United States, a move that is staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli defense analysts have warned that there is a growing rift between Jerusalem and Washington on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program, which may have significant ramifications on Israel’s security.

The two defense chiefs say they discussed ensuring Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge, or QME, a technical term referring to the country’s military superiority in the region, which the United States is legally obligated to maintain. Austin also stressed the close ties between US and Israel, despite the apparent tensions between the countries over the Iran nuclear issue.

“I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz: Our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad, and I pledged to ensure close consultation to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security,” Austin says.

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