Israel pledges to work with U.S. on Iran
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel's defence minister pledged on Sunday to cooperate with the United States on Iran, voicing hope that Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed Iranian nuclear deal that Washington reaches.
"Israel views the United States as a full partner across all operational theatres, not the least Iran," Benny Gantz said after hosting visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
"And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel."
Austin, making the first visit to Israel by a senior Biden administration official, told his counterpart that Washington views the alliance with Israel as central to regional security.
Austin's visit includes talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is worried about the Democratic administration's desire for a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with major powers, which the previous Republican administration quit.
Netanyahu has said Israel will not be bound by a renewed deal, which he describes as a temporary cap on Iranian nuclear capabilities that would pave the way to bomb-production in the longer-run. Tehran says its atomic ambitions are purely peaceful.
Israeli officials have long threatened last-ditch military action against Iran if they deem foreign diplomacy a dead-end.
In his public remarks, Austin did not comment on Iran specifically. He said the Biden administration would continue to ensure Israel's "qualitative military edge" in the Middle East as part of a "strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people".
"Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad," Austin said.
Israel and Iran have in recent weeks reported sabotage to their ships at sea. Syria has accused Israel of air strikes on its territory. Israel says it is trying to stem a build-up of Iranian forces within next-door Syria.
On Sunday, Iran's Press TV said an electricity problem had caused an incident at the Natanz underground uranium enrichment site, without casualties or pollution. Israel, which lists cyber-sabotage in its arsenal, did not comment.
(Additional reporting by Ari RabinovitchWriting by Dan WilliamsEditing by Frances Kerry)