Visiting US, Gantz emphasizes Israel-US cooperation ‘in face of Iran’s aggression’

In the first visit of an Israeli defense minister to US Central Command HQ in Florida, Gantz says joint partnership is a ‘game changer’ in Israel’s ability to confront Iran

Defense Minister Benny Gantz talks to US Air Force personnel at the air refueling wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, August 25, 2022. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz talks to US Air Force personnel at the air refueling wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, August 25, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel and the US will “continue to expand cooperation in the face of Iran’s aggression,” during his visit to the US Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday.

Gantz made his comments while touring the air refueling wing of the base alongside US Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla. It was the first visit of an Israeli defense minister to CENTCOM HQ.

Gantz and Kurilla discussed increasing joint exercises and cooperation on land, at sea and in the air, as well as in cybersecurity and intelligence, according to a statement issued by the Defense Ministry.

“I’d like to thank General Kurilla for having me,” Gantz said. “Israel’s cooperation with CENTCOM and regional countries is a game changer in our ability to maintain security, stability and peace in the Middle East, especially when facing Iran and its proxies,” he added.

“We will continue to deepen our cooperation, expand the actions required to target Iranian proxies and ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. We all understand the need to make sure Iran never has a nuclear umbrella under which it can spread terrorism and threaten the world and the Middle East,” Gantz said.

He added that this will be the message he intends to convey during his scheduled meeting with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington on Friday.

In December, Israel reportedly asked the US to accelerate the delivery of refueling aircraft it had purchased that could be used to attack Iranian nuclear sites — but was told by the Biden administration the first plane likely will not be delivered until 2024.

The sale of eight new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel was approved by the State Department in March of last year. It is unclear whether Gantz’s visit to CENTCOM’s air refueling wing was related to the pending deal.

Citing American and Israeli officials, The New York Times reported at the time that the request was made by Gantz during a meeting with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington.

The report noted that the tankers would be a significant upgrade for Israel and that without them, Jerusalem would need to rely on its aging fleet of refueling planes for a strike on Iran, or make a pit stop in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, neither of which would want to be linked to an attack on rival Iran.

Current and former officials quoted in the report said Israeli military planners believe that any strike on Iran will likely require multiple sorties against some sites, such as the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility, necessitating speedy refueling.

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

Gantz is visiting the US the same week as a trip there by Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata, both carrying a message of displeasure from Jerusalem at the acceleration in talks toward reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran

Iran said Wednesday that it had received the US’s response to its proposal for a return to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was ditched by then-US president Donald Trump in 2018.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize the administration’s response to the latest proposal, but noted that “we are closer now than we were even just a couple of weeks ago because Iran made a decision to make some concessions.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid told reporters on Thursday that Israel’s efforts to influence the outcome of negotiations had borne fruit, but that the accord was still “a bad deal” for Israel.

According to a Thursday report by Channel 12, the emerging accord would not require the US to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terror organizations, nor would it roll back Iran’s requirement to explain sites with suspected nuclear activity to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Before departing for the US on Thursday, Gantz tweeted that the goal of his trip was “to send a clear message in regard to the negotiations between Iran and powers on the nuclear deal: A deal that does not knock Iran’s abilities back by years and does not restrain it for years ahead, is a deal that will harm global and regional security.”

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