US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday in the first cabinet-level visit to Israel from US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Austin was received with military honors before meeting his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz.
The legislative elections in Palestine, scheduled for May 22, topped the agenda with various officials.
Gantz and other senior security officials voiced concern over the potential results of the polls and their impact on the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA), said sources in Tel Aviv.
They pointed to the risk of the Hamas movement winning and sabotaging the remaining relations between the PA and Israel, the sources added.
They also considered the PA’s activity with the International Criminal Court (ICC) a fatal blow to these relations that could end trust and push for further tension in the region. However, Austin did not mention this concern in his statements.
Other issues discussed were Iran’s influence and its attempt to dominate the Middle East, its military positioning in Syria and military support for the Hezbollah party in Lebanon.
Gantz emphasized that Israel views the US as the full partner across all operational threats, “not the least, Iran.”
The Tehran of today possess a strategic threat to international security to the entire Middle East and to Israel, he noted.
Gantz stressed that Tel Aviv will work closely with its American allies to ensure that any new nuclear agreement with Iran will secure the vital interest of the world and the United States, prevent dangers and unrest in the region and protect Israel.
“As a major strategic partner for the United States, our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East,” Austin stated.
He reaffirmed to Gantz that the US commitment to Israel is enduring and it is iron clad.
He stressed that this relationship is built on “trust,” which has developed over decades of cooperation, noting that he looks forward to building upon that trust in the years ahead.
Following his two-day visit to Israel, Austin is expected in Germany on Tuesday, and in Brussels and Britain after that.