JERUSALEM (Reuters) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday declared an “enduring and ironclad” American commitment to Israel, reinforcing support at a tense time in Israeli politics and amid questions about the Biden administration’s efforts to revive nuclear negotiations with Israel’s archenemy, Iran.
After meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Austin said he had reaffirmed “our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad.” Austin made no mention of Iran. Gantz, in his own remarks, while standing beside Austin, said his country views the United States as a “full partner” against threats, “not the least, Iran.” Neither official took questions from reporters.
“The Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to international security, the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said in his prepared statement. “We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will security the vital interests of the world and of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel.”
Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Austin’s visit is important in part because it is the first by a member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
“They want to show that they did come here with clean hands and they want to listen,” Guzansky said. “They want to listen to Israel’s worries and perhaps other partners’ worries about the negotiation about Iran.”
Washington has sought to reassure Israel on regional security issues while restarting talks, so far indirect and inconclusive, about a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran that the previous Trump administration quit.
Israel has long been critical of the deal that it sees as putting a temporary cap on Iranian nuclear capabilities that would pave the way to Tehran producing bombs in the long run. It has said it would not be bound by the diplomacy.
Israel and Iran have in recent weeks reported sabotage to their ships at sea. Syria has accused Israel of air strikes on its territory. Israel says it is trying to stem a build-up of Iranian forces within next-door Syria.
On Sunday, Iran’s Press TV said an electricity problem had caused an incident at the Natanz underground uranium enrichment site, without casualties or pollution. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Israel, which lists cyber-sabotage in its arsenal, had no immediate comment on the Natanz incident.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.