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Israeli Defense Chief Seeking Aid Avoids Criticizing Biden On Iran

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing what could be his last days in office, and a tough confontation with Palestinian militants fresh in his mind, Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz sounded a cautious tone in his meetings with three cabinet members of President Joe Biden’s administration on issues related to Iran. 

During a day packed with meetings in Washington on Thursday, Gantz avoided the harsher tone of the long-serving prime minister who has often openly criticized the Biden team for softening US policy toward Tehran and engaging in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Gantz told reporters that Israel will stay engaged as the US tries to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, avoiding any criticism of the talks. However, he reiterated the Israeli view that Iran’s nuclear program and regional behavior were an “existential threat” to Israel. “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States,” Israel and other countries, Gantz said.

But his position on the talks was much more benign than previous Israeli criticism of the Biden Administration for pursuing a policy that would lead to essentially an appeasement of Iran.

Sitting across a table from his U.S. counterpart at the Pentagon, Gantz said, “Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons.”

The Israeli official made clear the change in tone was purposeful. “We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion ... only, not in the media in a provoking way,” he said, calling for “open dialogue behind closed doors." It echoed Biden's own embrace of what the administration has called quiet diplomacy when dealing with Israel.

Israeli officials were much more bellicose in their statements this week, with Netanyahu saying that Israel will stop Iran’s from acquiring nuclear weapons even if that means friction with its closest ally. “If we have to choose, I hope it doesn’t happen, between friction with our great friend the United States and eliminating the existential threat — eliminating the existential threat” wins, Netanyahu said.

But Gantz’s trip to Washington pursued an important immediate goal – securing iron-clad US security guarantees to help Israel defend itself in the aftermath of a 4000-rocket show of force in May by militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

Israel needs continued US support in defense matters, such as replenishing the Iron Dome, an important and sophisticated aerial defense system that stopped most of militant rockets and missiles hitting their targets in the 11-day confrontation in May.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated President Joe Biden’s support of replenishing the Iron Dome.

"I would like to thank you, Secretary Austin, and the entire Bidens administration, for supporting Israel right and duty to defend itself and for maintaining Israel's QME (Qualitative Military Edge) which assures stability in our region,” Gantz said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, touring Israel this week in a show of support after the latest Gaza war, said he expected Israelis to seek up to $1 billion from the U.S. for Iron Dome, including for restocking the system’s interception missiles.

With reporting by AP

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