Carter: Israel ‘Bedrock of American Strategy in the Middle East’

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Israel on Monday in a bid to ease concerns over the nuclear deal with Iran, signaling Washington was ready to boost military cooperation with the Jewish state, according to AFP

Israel was Carter's first stop on a regional tour following last week's historic agreement between Iran and world powers, underlining the importance of the relationship between the two countries despite frictions over the accord.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has condemned the deal with Iran, arguing it is not enough to keep the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons that could be used to target Israel.

He has also indicated that military force remains on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, though experts say unilateral strikes by Israel appear highly unlikely for now.

Despite the tension, Carter said Israel remained "the bedrock of American strategy in the Middle East." 

At a joint news conference with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, he noted aspects of military aid the United States already supplies to Israel and said "there is a lot more that we can do" related to cooperation.

"We will continue in that tradition in improving our joint capabilities, our joint readiness, our joint planning," he said.

Ya'alon expressed concern over terror groups Iran backs, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, arguing that the expected lifting of sanctions will worsen the problem.

"We have to look at it very carefully because they are going to have more money in the current situation," he said.

Carter will meet with Netanyahu on Tuesday.

On Sunday, officials denied that Carter will offer Israel a military arms deal during his visit, nor that the visit is related at all to the Iran deal. 

On Friday, a senior official in Jerusalem implied that the visit is specifically to mend the rift between the U.S. and Israel over the Iran deal through a compensation package, and noted that Jerusalem has refused to yield. 

"Israel explicitly said during a series of closed telephone conversations with officials that at this point it does not want to deal with the issue of strengthening its own security with the help of the United States," the official stated. 

And on Thursday night, Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, also hinted at a compensation package in remarks to Reuters

"We will…be looking forward – if the Israelis are interested and willing, they haven't said so yet – to discuss with them how we might further deepen and strengthen our security and intelligence cooperation," she said.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/198393

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