Before Bennett meet, US defense secretary warns of Iran’s ‘alarming nuclear steps’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Before his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stresses that Iran must be held to account for its regional activities, including attacks at sea.

“Iran must be held accountable for acts of aggression in the Middle East and on international waters,” he says, pointing the finger squarely at Tehran for the July 30 attack on the Mercer Street tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

He underscores America’s commitment to Israel’s ability to defend itself against Iran and, notably, its armed proxy groups.

“The Department of Defense is also committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, and to ensure that Israel can defend itself against threats from Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups,” Austin says.

Austin notes Iran’s “alarming nuclear steps and continuing regional aggression.”

He adds that the “US is committed to strengthening its strategic relationship with Israel. The Administration is committed to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense.”

“That is unwavering. It is steadfast,” says Austin.

This can be seen, says Austin, in the defense aid the US provides to Israel as part of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding.

Austin adds that the US is committed to the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system. “We are working closely with Congress to provide all the necessary information to respond positively to your request to provide 1 billion dollars in emergency funding. And it’s going to save more innocent lives.”

Austin adds that the US is watching closely “as Israel has been a global leader” against COVID-19, and says that the two sides will continue consulting.

Austin also says he is pleased that the US provided 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinians.

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