Photo: Flash90, Shmulik Almani (Israeli Ministry of Defense)

Gantz hold defense talks in US

The United States commitment to the strategic partnership and security of Israel remains ironclad, regardless of what government is in place in Jerusalem.

That was the strong message conveyed during a flurry of security meetings Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz held during his lightning visit to the United States, where he held talks with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Gantz wrote on his Twitter page that he discussed “the need to promote regional stability by halting Iranian aggressiveness, while strengthening the alliance of moderates, and protecting Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME)” with NSA Sullivan.

In a warm greeting in the Treaty Room, Secretary Blinken said, “It’s a real pleasure to welcome Defense Minister Gantz to the State Department.” He added that the two “had an opportunity to spend some time together in Israel just a week or so ago,” during his own visit to Jerusalem, and that he was “Very happy today to have the opportunity to pursue that conversation, to talk about the United States enduring commitment to Israel security, to talk about some of the needs that Israel has in that regard; also to talk about the work that needs to be done to move forward on humanitarian assistance to and reconstruction for Gaza and for the Palestinians living there and to look across the board at the many issues that we have on our agenda.”

Minister Gantz said, “It’s a real pleasure to be here and re-convey Israel’s appreciation for the administration, for the President, for yourself, for the ongoing support, which is very important for us in our challenging area.” He went on to say he was looking forward to reviving discussion on Israel’s “challenges” with Iran and the Palestinians. “As far as Gaza concerned,” he said that, “we do look for stability and prosperity for everybody.  And as Defense Minister, I think the combination between moving forward with construction and making sure that everything stays secure – it’s very important for me.”

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the office of State Department Spokesperson Ned Price following the Gantz-Blinken talks, the two “discussed the U.S.-Israel partnership and America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”

Secretary Blinken also “reiterated the importance of promoting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike and support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” and “underscored the importance of humanitarian assistance and relief and recovery efforts in Gaza.  The Secretary emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to enjoy equal measures of security, prosperity, democracy, and dignity.”

Ahead of his own talks with Gantz, Defense Secretary Austin said, “Before we start, I wanted to reiterate that the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. We are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself against regional threats, such as those posed by Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups. The administration fully supports your country’s right to defend itself against rockets, rocket attacks fired indiscriminately by Hamas, and other Gaza-based militants against Israeli civilians.”

The top US defense leader also said he wanted to “personally thank you again, Minister Gantz, for your role in implementing the cease-fire with Hamas” in the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict with Gaza in May.

He went on to state that US President Joe Biden “has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system which saved so many innocent lives during the most recent conflict.” The Iron Dome is credited with having intercepted about 90% of the 4,400 rockets terror groups in the Palestinian enclave fired at Israel.

“Now going forward, we seek lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” said Secretary Austin, stressing “the importance of reducing tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” “supporting humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza that benefits the innocent people who live there,” and “President Biden’s goal of a Two-State solution.:

He voiced his personal commitment “to supporting that work,” and said he anticipated “an afternoon of productive and frank discussions on a wide range of issues, as the minister and I usually do. “

Defense Minister Gantz said that “There is no question that we are in a time of great changes and new challenges. But there is one thing which stands strong:  the strategic alliance and the shared values between Israel and the US,” as well as the “special ties” between the two nations departments of defense.

He thanked Secretary Austin “and the entire Biden administration for supporting Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, and for maintaining Israel’s QME, which ensures stability in our region. “

Saying that “Two weeks ago, Israel came out of a recent round in Gaza it did not wish for, after Hamas, a terrorist organization, opened fire on our civilians” who included “Jews, Arabs, and Christians,” Gantz underscored that “the IDF used its excellent intelligence, precise munitions and strict procedure to strike directly at Hamas’ military targets.” He agreed that the Iron Dome had “saved hundreds of Israeli lives, intercepting over 1,400 rockets that were aimed at residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, and hospitals.”

The Israeli Defense Minister said that “it’s now time for diplomacy, which can help prevent or delay another military campaign,” and that “The United States and other moderate countries in our region would have a major role in ensuring the success of this process.” Toward that end, Gantz said he would present his US counterpart “with the complete policy plan that will lead us there.”

Turning to Iran, which he charged “continues to develop nuclear weapons, and continues to arm militias throughout the Middle East,” Gantz emphasized that the Islamic Republic “is first and foremost a global and regional problem, and it is also an existential threat to Israel, as its leaders openly declare. “

Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the US, Europe, the countries of the Middle East, and Israel,” he said, as well as “the people of Iran” who “deserve a government that will devote itself to solving real problems, rather than with developing weapons of mass destruction to threaten other peoples.”

Israel is strongly opposed to current efforts by world powers in Vienna to return both Tehran and Washington to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, unless it was expanded to include stronger enforcement measures to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons and supporting its terrorist proxies.

“I am well aware of the important dialogue about a future agreement to stop its nuclear armament,” said Gantz, before underscoring that the Israel-US “dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from a nuclear weapon.”

He then reiterated that, “Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself.”

In a veiled jab at his political rival Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz said that Jerusalem and Washington “will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussions, and only that way – not through the media or through provocations,” adding, “I am sure that through open dialogue behind closed doors, and in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill, we can achieve our goals.”

On 1 June, Netanyahu declared that Israel would not hesitate to exercise its right to self-defense against Iran – even if it risks straining ties with the United States. In a rebuke to that statement, Gantz immediately responded by saying that even though it is true that “Iran poses a threat to regional security and global peace” and that its support of terrorism and pursuit of nuclear plans “pose an immediate threat to the State of Israel,” but went on to stress that “Nonetheless, Israel remains the most powerful country in the region within a 1,500-kilometer (900 mile) radius from Jerusalem. The US has been and will continue to be Israel’s most important ally, protecting Israel’s security and safeguarding its qualitative edge in the region.”

He added that “The Biden Administration is a true friend of Israel, and Israel doesn’t have and will never have a greater partner than the United States,” Gantz insisted that, “Even if differences arise, they will be resolved through direct dialogue, behind closed doors, not through provocative statements that serve to harm Israeli security.”

Gantz concluded his remarks at the Pentagon by expressing his personal gratitude to Secretary Lloyd for many years of friendship  and “for your openness to looking together at Israel’s security needs, which serves the ultimate purpose of peace.”