“Iran remains the primary driver of instability in the region,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a joint press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Israel on Thursday.
Austin arrived in Israel for a one-day visit from Egypt as part of a Mideast tour that began in Jordan and also included an unannounced visit to Iraq.
He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who flew to Rome following the meeting.
Austin said the U.S. remains “deeply concerned by Iran’s support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, its nuclear advances, its aggression at sea, its cyber threats and its proliferation of attack drones and advanced conventional weapons.
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. “But as President [Joe] Biden has repeatedly made clear, the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
The defense secretary expressed concerns about Iran’s growing strategic partnership with Russia, which includes providing military drones for the latter’s war in Ukraine. “Iran is gaining important battlefield expertise and experience in Ukraine that will eventually transfer to its dangerous proxies in the Middle East,” he said.
Austin praised the growing defense cooperation between Israel and the U.S., particularly Israel’s shift in 2021 into the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)’s area of responsibility “That change and the historic Abraham Accords have opened the door to even greater regional security cooperation. That means new opportunities to share early warning and to integrate air defense capabilities and to expand maritime domain awareness,” he said.
Defense Minister Gallant thanked Austin for his leadership in increasing U.S.-Israel defense ties, including with the recent joint IDF-CENTCOM Juniper Oak exercise. About 6,400 U.S. and 1,500 Israeli troops participated in that drill.
Gallant said the bond between the two countries takes on greater meaning given the Iranian threat. “Iran aims to gain nuclear weapons and threaten not only Israel but the entire world. Mr. Secretary, it is our duty to take all measures necessary to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
“The Iranian nuclear threat requires us to be prepared for every course of action,” the defense minister added, saying that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons will increase its malicious activities in the region.
“Mr. Secretary, as the son of Holocaust survivors, I am fully aware of the heavy mission that rests on my shoulders, on our shoulders. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the dreams of the ayatollahs are never fulfilled at any cost,” Gallant said.
The meeting took place near Ben-Gurion Airport due to disruptions caused by protesters against the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plan. Addressing the internal domestic dispute in his remarks, Austin said, “President Biden has said the genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, and on an independent judiciary.
“And the president also noted that building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained,” Austin added.
Asked by Reuters whether he feels “comfortable” working with the Netanyahu government given its judicial reform plan and comments from certain members of its coalition partners, Austin said:
“In terms of our ability to work together, you’ve heard me say a number of times in various places that our commitment to the security of Israel is ironclad. They have been great partners throughout and they will continue to be great partners going forward. Our commitment to the security of Israel will not waver. It will not change. It is not negotiable.”