During the final stop of a tour of the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.
The senior government and military leaders discussed the US-Israel defence partnership, threats posed by Iran in the region, and America’s commitment to Israel’s security.
During a briefing following his meeting with the Israeli defense minister, Austin explained what is, perhaps, the No. 1 reason for his visit.
“I wanted to be here to make something very clear,” said Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense. “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and it’s going to stay that way. As President Biden said on his visit to Israel last year, the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep.”
When speaking with the prime minister, Austin also explained his commitment to Israel’s self defence and US security assistance to Israel. Part of that commitment involves the US$38 billion Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the US.
“Our historic Memorandum of Understanding with Israel provides $3.3 billion annually for security assistance, as well as additional funding for cooperation on missile defense,” Austin added. “I’m proud that President Biden reaffirmed his support for the Memorandum of Understanding and last year’s historic Jerusalem Declaration. And that declaration again reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel’s security.”
As a part of that commitment, the U.S. and Israel in January participated in the Juniper Oak military exercise. The bilateral, live-fire exercise took place in both Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, involved 6400 U.S. troops and 1500 Israeli troops, and was the largest exercise the two nations have participated in together.
“Juniper Oak underscored the depth of our security partnership,” Austin explained. “It was a key step forward in interoperability, helping us both to better address regional threats. And it showed our ability to swiftly flow in forces and respond to crisis, even while maintaining our commitments in other key theaters.”
A focus of discussion between Austin and Israeli leaders were threats posed by Iran, including Iranian support for terrorism, support of proxy groups, aggression at sea, cyber threats and proliferation of attack drones.
Tensions are high between Israelis and Palestinians, and this is also something Austin discussed with Israeli leaders.
Austin offered condolences to the Prime Minister for the recent victims of terrorism and reaffirmed his commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself against such attacks. But Austin also said there was “frank and candid discussion” about de-escalating tensions, especially before Passover and Ramadan.
Prior to his visit to Israel, Austin visited Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. In all four locations, the secretary emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Middle East and to increased security cooperation partnerships.