In the face of Israeli outrage over the Iran nuclear accord, the Pentagon is moving quickly to reinforce arguably the strongest part of the U.S.-Israeli relationship: military cooperation.
But officials say Washington has no plans to offer new weaponry as compensation for the Iran deal.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter left for Tel Aviv on Sunday to push ahead with talks on ways the U.S. can further improve Israel’s security — not just with Iranian threats in mind, but an array of other challenges, including cyberdefense and maritime security.
Israel’s also has expressed concern that U.S. sales of advanced weaponry to Gulf Arab states has the potential of offsetting, to some degree, Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Carter is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, as well as with Israeli generals, and visit troops in northern Israel. He plans to stop in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies whose leaders also are worried about implications of the nuclear deal.
Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz, Netanyahu’s point man on the nuclear issue, told reporters “there is no real compensation for Israel” if Iran develops the capacity to make nuclear weapons.
The two countries have been holding talks on renewing a 10-year defense pact set to expire in 2018. Under the current deal, Israel receives about $3 billion in military aid from the U.S. each year. That number is likely to increase when the deal is renewed, and possibly before then.
Obama has indicated he is open to new ways of improving Israeli security, but he has played down the idea that ending economic penalties on Iran will drastically alter the balance of power in the region.
“Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies? I think that is a likelihood,” Obama told a White House news conference on Wednesday. “Do I think it’s a game-changer for them? No.”
But Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Friday indicated the Iran deal would have a significant impact on U.S.-Israel defense ties and that an upgrading of material support would be sought, though not immediately.
““We will ultimately, of course, have to go and talk about the trade-offs that Israel has coming to it in order to preserve a qualitative edge,” he said, referring to Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry director-general Dan Harel was in the United States this week reportedly to assess the Obama administration’s planned military aid to Gulf Arab states and its impact on the Israeli “qualitative edge.”