Washington will maintain Israel’s military edge, new US defense secretary assures Gantz

The two former top generals discuss the US-Israel defense relationship and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke Thursday with his counterpart in Washington, newly sworn-in U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for the first time since Austin was appointed to the post last week.

The two former generals discussed the U.S.-Israel defense relationship, renewing their connection that began when Gantz was chief-of-staff of the IDF and Austin was commander of the U.S. armed forces CENTCOM command for the Middle East.

“Enjoyed speaking with my longtime colleague, Secretary of Defense Austin, and sharing my warm wishes on his appointment,” Gantz tweeted. “We reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israel defense relationship & discussed our many shared priorities, including maintaining Israel’s QME [Qualitative Military Edge] & regional stability.”

Gantz traveled to the Pentagon in October to sign a new agreement to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, paving the way for the sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE that had previously worried Israeli leaders, as no Arab country has the advance jets.

The Biden administration this week put a hold on that sale, worth a reported $23 billion, pending a review as the deal was criticized by many Democratic members of Congress.

The F-35 sale was intended to help the UAE and other Arab Gulf allies confront the military threats posed by Iran.

“I emphasized the importance of confronting Iranian aggression and blocking its nuclear aspirations, as well as the centrality of our close coordination to regional security. Looking forward to working together again, Secretary Austin,” Gantz said.

Austin tweeted back his own short summary of their talk, adding that America would ensure Israel maintained its military advantage over other countries in the region.

“Great speaking with Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz this morning. The U.S. is committed to Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge and to enhancing our close bilateral cooperation,” Austin tweeted.

The two talked as the current commander of CENTCOM, U.S. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., was in Israel for a two-day visit with the IDF. McKenzie is the first senior American official to visit the Jewish State since President Joe Biden was sworn into office January 20.

“Military and strategic relations between the U.S.and Israel have, for many years, been a critical component in establishing Israel’s national security and its advantage over its enemies, wherever they are,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi told his guest. “This partnership has a key role to play in dealing with our common threats, especially the Iranian threat.”

McKenzie’s visit is significant in that at the end of his term in office, President Donald Trump shifted Israel from the military jurisdiction of the European Command (EUCOM) to the Central Command. Israel had previously been part of Europe to avoid friction with America’s Arab allies in the region, but that changed following the Abraham Accords and Israel establishing diplomatic relations with Bahrain and United Arab Emirates – where CENTCOM has major bases.

Israeli officials had pushed for many years to move Israel under CENTCOM for strategic reasons, to allow for closer coordination and cooperation with a focus on Iran.

The IDF is strongly opposed to the Biden administration returning the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal. Earlier this week, Kochavi said he sees such a move as a strategic mistake and announced he was preparing military operations against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“A return to the nuclear agreement of 2015, even if it is a similar agreement with improvements, is a bad thing and not right. It is a bad thing operationally and it is a bad thing strategically,” Kochavi said. ” I have ordered the IDF to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to the existing ones.”