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Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz Heads to US, Will Meet Austin at Pentagon
Israel's Defense MInister Benny Gantz and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emerge from the Pentagon during Gantz's one-day visit to Washington on June 3, 2021. (Shmulik Almani)

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz Heads to US, Will Meet Austin at Pentagon

Iran ‘weeks away’ from building nuclear bomb, Gantz warns ahead of Washington visit

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz will meet with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in Washington this week.

Gantz will leave Israel for the United States on Wednesday and meet Austin on Thursday. Afterward, Gantz will attend an event organized for bereaved families from the Jewish communities of Miami and New York.

On Tuesday, Gantz warned about Iran’s rapidly growing nuclear capabilities during a conference at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya.

“Iran continues to accumulate irreversible knowledge and experience in the development, research, production and operation of advanced centrifuges,” Gantz said.

He said that Teheran is only a few weeks away from generating enough fissile material to create a nuclear bomb, and that the Islamic Republic is enriching metallic uranium to 20% while keeping the International Atomic Energy Agency from accessing its facilities for inspection.

Iran getting closer to nuclear capability is something that the US and Israel are always discussing

Gantz stressed that time is an important factor and urged world powers not to let more time pass.

“Today, the prices for tackling the Iranian challenge on the global and regional levels are higher than they were a year ago and lower than they will be within a year,” he added.

Dr. Eran Lerman, former deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at Israel’s National Security Council and vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are by far the most important element that has to be discussed between the US and Israeli defense establishments.

Currently, the world powers and Iran are talking directly, and indirectly, in the context of the Vienna talks, to reestablish a deal for the Iranian nuclear program from which the US withdrew in 2018 under former President Donald Trump.

Lerman added that the two governments need to coordinate what to do if the talks in Vienna succeed, and what to do if the talks fail.

The talks have been halted for several weeks due to some issues on which the parties have not yet agreed. The most outstanding of them is the Iranian demand that the US remove the designation of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

However, Lerman believes that is not the only stumbling block that could prevent the renewal of the Iranian nuclear deal.

“Even if they find a solution with the question of delisting the IRGC, there are other very problematic questions (such as) the Iranian demands for guarantees that the Russians are not in a position to provide,” he said.

Barukh Binah, former Israeli ambassador to Denmark and former deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, also believes that the obvious subject is always Iran.

“Iran getting closer to nuclear capability is something that the US and Israel are always discussing,” he said.

Lerman added that, no matter how the nuclear negotiations develop, Israel requires very close coordination with the US administration on the matter.

If the negotiations succeed, he said, “there should be a very effective mechanism for monitoring Iran.” If the negotiations fail, he continued, Israel “might face the need to act to stop the Iranian nuclear project.”

Other than nuclear developments in Iran, there are some additional issues that Gantz and his US counterpart are likely to discuss, the experts say.

Another issue that is probably on the agenda is the influence that the war in Ukraine has had on the Middle East, Binah said.

This is particularly likely since there is a Russian presence in Syria, on Israel’s northern border.

In addition, Lerman believes that Gantz and Austin will discuss the administration of Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, during their meeting.

“I believe that Gantz is the right person to explain to the Americans why we [Israel] act the way we do, and what we are doing to sustain the cooperation with the Palestinian Authority when it comes to security coordination,” he said.

What is clear, they said, is that relations between the US and Israel have been improving lately.

Binah said that the ties between both countries are now much better than they were a year ago.

Israel has once again become a bipartisan or no-partisan issue. That is the nature of the American-Israeli relationship.

The two governments always have to be closely and intimately connected with one another, he explained.

“For a long time, the Israeli government took sides on the American political system. The government of Israel under Prime Minister (Binyamin) Netanyahu favored the Republicans. Which is always a mistake. Israel should never take sides. We are a bipartisan issue,” he said.

He noted that the current administration in Washington and the current government of Israel realize that there is a lot of fence mending to be done.

One year ago, he added, “when the new Israeli government came to power there was a lot more to do. Now most of the damage has been corrected. And Israel has once again become a bipartisan or no-partisan issue. That is the nature of the American-Israeli relationship.”

Lerman said that the current level of coordination between Israel and the US is unprecedented.

However, he noted that this also creates a certain obligation, which may place a limit on Israel’s freedom of action.

Even so, Lerman continued, “I can hardly imagine a situation where Israel will take major steps against Iran or Iranian proxies in the region without taking into consideration the American stand.”

He added that there are points of disagreement between Israel and the US. On subjects, for example, such as how far the US could go in trying to offer concessions to the Iranians in order to bring them back to the agreement.

“Those question marks have to be discussed in person,” he said.

“There are some differences that need to be discussed in the context of the unprecedented level of security cooperation” between the US and Israel, he concluded.

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