Pentagon chief Austin meets Israeli defence minister amid heightened regional tension

Benny Gantz is on trip to US to shore up co-ordination on Iran

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin welcomes Israeli Minister of Defence Benny Gantz during an honour cordon ceremony at the Pentagon. Getty Images / AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin hosted his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz at the Pentagon on Thursday amid heightened regional tension.

Mr Gantz began serving as Minister of Defence in 2020 and became Deputy Prime Minister of Israel in 2021.

The meeting comes as the US continues indirect talks with Iran in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal that put curbs on Tehran's nuclear ambitions — a deal that was quashed by former president Donald Trump.

Israel has long been opposed to a nuclear deal with Iran and during talks with Mr Austin, Mr Gantz emphasised the need to put a stop to Iranian aggression.

“We must act decisively against Iran’s mounting regional aggression in a variety of ways — this includes strengthening a practical coalition under US leadership together with regional partners,” Mr Gantz told Mr Austin.

The Israeli defence chief also thanked Mr Austin for supporting the passing of a $4.8 billion dollar security package for Israel.

The package, which was passed by the US senate in March, earmarked $1bn for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

The two defence chiefs met as tension in Israel and the West Bank continues to build.

Mr Gantz's office said in a statement that he had "debriefed Secretary Austin on recent security tension in Israel, particularly the recent wave of terror" and that he also spoke on Israel's counter-terrorism and intelligence efforts.

More than a dozen people were killed in a series of attacks that began in late March. This month, three people were killed in the central Israeli city of Elad when two assailants leapt from a car swinging axes at passers-by.

And last week, Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

During her funeral in Jerusalem, police clashed with mourners — including those bearing Abu Akleh's coffin — and several people were injured.

Updated: May 19, 2022, 7:59 PM