By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 09, 2021) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met today with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin "Benny" Gantz during a closed meeting at the Pentagon. A top priority for both defense leaders was a shared concern regarding the aggressive actions of the Iranian government.
"We share Israel's deep concerns about the Iranian government's destabilizing actions, including its support for terrorism and its missile program, and its alarming nuclear advances," Austin said in advance of the meeting. "We are completely aligned in our commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- this is a national security interest of the United States and Israel and the world."
While Austin said diplomacy is the first tool that should be used to address threats posed by Iran, he said it is not the only tool the U.S. has at its disposal.
"The president has made clear that if the policy fails, we are prepared to turn to other options," Austin said. "The Department of Defense will continue to work closely with all of our partners throughout the region, including Israel, first and foremost, to ensure that we're working together to address Iranian threats. We will defend ourselves, we will defend our friends, and we will defend our interests."
Austin also told the Israeli defense minister that the U.S. remains committed to Israel's ability to continue to defend itself.
"As you know, the United States remains unwavering in its commitment to Israel's security, including maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge," Austin said.
Included in that commitment, Austin said, is a strengthening of U.S./Israel bilateral defense cooperation, with an emphasis on air and missile defense.
Gantz reminded Austin that it is the government of Iran that Israel is at odds with -- not the Iranian people.
"They are being held hostage by a tyrannical regime which violates their human rights," Gantz said. "Iran is not just a threat to our physical security. Iran possesses a concrete threat to our way of life, and our shared values. In its aspirations to become a hegemon, Iran seeks to destroy all traces of freedom, human dignity, and peace in the Middle East and beyond."
Iran's nuclear program, Gantz said, is its means to achieving its goals both regionally and globally, and he counts on the United States to ensure it doesn't advance.
"I am totally confident in the commitment of the administration of the United States as a global power to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons," he said. "The international community, with the United States' leadership, has an opportunity to act against Iran's hegemonic aspirations, restore stability, and prevent the oppression of nations across the region."