US Secretary of Defense in Israel: Our relationship is ‘ironclad’

US Secretary of Defense arrives in Israel for two days of talks as America works to rejoin the problematic Iran nuclear deal.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on Sunday for meetings with his Israeli counterpart and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the Israel-U.S. relationship is “iron-clad.”

It is the first visit to Israel by a senior official in President Joe Biden’s new administration. Austin held talks Sunday morning with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and senior Israeli defense officials and is scheduled to meet later with Netanyahu.

Austin and Gantz have known each other for years, having built a relationship when Gantz was IDF chief of staff and Austin was commander of the U.S. armed forces CENTCOM command for the Middle East based in Qatar.

“Our partnership is not based not only on strategic interests, but on shared values, history and personal relationships,” Gantz said in a press conference at Israel’s Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“During our conversation I emphasized to Secretary Austin that Israel views the United States as a full partner on all operational threats, not the least [of which] is Iran,” Gantz said. “The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the State of Israel.”

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

Austin emphasized the ongoing importance of America’s strong relationship with Israel that has developed over numerous administrations in Washington.

“I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration‘s strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people,” Austin said. “As a major strategic partner for the United States, our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East.”

“This is a relationship built on trust, which has developed over decades of cooperation,” Austin said. “I look forward to building on that trust in the years ahead.”

“I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad, and I pledge to continue close consultations in order to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security,” Austin said.

Austin arrived in Israel the same day Iran reported an accident at a nuclear facility. Western analysts say it was a deliberate cyberattack. Iran says it’s investigating. It has not yet blamed Israel or the U.S. for the incident.

Channel 11 news reported on Saturday that Israel would refrain from escalating the conflict with Iran after news reports attributed an attack on an Iranian spy ship in the Red Sea to Israel.