US pledges support for whoever leads Israel

AFP , Friday 4 Jun 2021

'We're not going to speak to government formation while it's in process,' State Department spokesman Ned Price said after Gantz met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (2L) and Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin "Benny" Gantz (L) stand for their countries national anthems prior to a meeting at the Pentagon. AFP

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz received a pledge of US support for whoever is Israel's next leader Thursday as he met with top officials in Washington while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was facing ouster back home.

US security and defense officials also told Gantz they would help replenish its "Iron Dome" missile defense system after it was used heavily in the recent conflict with Gaza, but also pressed Israel to reduce tensions with Palestinians.

"We're not going to speak to government formation while it's in process," State Department spokesman Ned Price said after Gantz met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"Regardless of what happens, regardless of what government is in place, our stalwart support, our ironclad support for Israel will remain," he said.

At the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated that Washington supports Israel's right to defend itself, but that security also involved rebuilding confidence with Palestinians.

"The President has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, which saved so many innocent lives during the most recent conflict," Austin told Gantz.

"Now going forward, we seek lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike," he said.

"As my colleague Secretary Blinken made clear in Israel last week, a lot of work needs to be done to rebuild confidence and trust, and to create conditions to reengage in a meaningful way on the path to a two-state solution."

Gantz was in Washington just after a coalition of diverse opposition parties, to which he belongs, struck a deal Wednesday to remove Prime Minister Netanyahu from office after 12 years in power.

Questions though remained over whether the coalition can hold together long enough to unseat Netanyahu.

The political turmoil comes after the US was pulled into discussions over the recent deadly conflict between Palestinians and Israel that left 254 Palestinians dead from Israeli air strikes in Gaza and 13 dead in Israel.

Gantz did not meet with US President Joe Biden, who has an ambivalent relationship with Netanyahu.

Instead he met White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who "highlighted the importance of ensuring that immediate humanitarian aid is able to reach the people of Gaza," according to an official statement from the meeting.

The two also discussed the threat Iran poses to the region, as the US seeks to restore the 2015 JCPOA agreement that prevented Tehran from pushing forward to develop nuclear weapons.

"These very days Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons, and continues to armed militias throughout the Middle East," Gantz told Austin.

"I am well aware of the important dialogue about future agreement, which will stop its nuclear armament," he said.

"Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meet its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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