WASHINGTON, April 21, 2017 —
The United States is steadfastly committed to Israel’s security, and appreciates its partnership with Israel in confronting regional and other threats, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, today in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The secretary visited Israel to meet with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman; and to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
It is the secretary’s first trip to Israel since becoming defense secretary and the new U.S. administration’s first cabinet official to visit. The trip follows a number of senior-level engagements between the political leadership between the two countries, including President Donald J. Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu and Lieberman during their visit to Washington in March, Mattis noted.
“I am honored to return to Israel to show my respect for this country,” Mattis said from a podium at the Israeli Ministry of Defense. “I am keenly aware that we stand together this morning just a week before the Holocaust Remembrance Day and we share a common determination to never allow such horrific events to recur.”
Defeating Regional Threats
The secretary said he had just come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- two other important U.S. security partners in the region -- and noted that his discussions with both countries reinforced the need for vigilance and for the strongest possible cooperation in the international community “to defeat threats to all of our countries.”
Mattis said he and Lieberman had just finished their third meeting since January, and their close and regular dialogue is a reflection of the enduring bond between the two countries’ militaries.
“During this meeting, we had another in-depth conversation, sharing a keen appreciation for the security situation facing Israel and our [other] friends in the region, and further refining the practical steps we are taking together to defend our shared security interests,” the secretary said.
“The depth of our relationship was clear,” he added, “following the U.S. strike in Syria, when Israel immediately expressed its strong support for our action, to enforce the longstanding international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.”
The Danger Of ISIS
Looking across the region, the United States recognizes that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria represents “a clear and present danger” not only to Syria and Iraq, but to Israel and other countries in the region, to Europe, and ultimately to the U.S. homeland, he noted.
“The coalition campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is on track and we’ve accelerated an intensified campaign to surround and isolate the enemy so we [can] methodically remove its physical caliphate,” Mattis said.
Threats From Iran
The secretary said the United States also recognizes the need to confront the destabilizing activities of Iran.
“Iran continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors with ballistic missiles through its maritime and cyber activities and through proxies and surrogates, including Lebanese Hezbollah, a terrorist organization helping to keep [President Bashar Assad] in power in Syria,” Mattis said.
In the face of these threats, he added, “the United States maintains absolute and unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to its qualitative military edge over Iran or other threats.”
Mattis said the foundation of the U.S.-Israeli long-term commitment is the significant 10-year security assistance package the nations recently signed, which will enable Israel to continue acquiring the most-advanced U.S. military technology.
“This complements our expanding cooperation on intelligence sharing, counterterrorism, and counter proliferation across the region,” Mattis said.
“Our alliance with Israel is the cornerstone of a larger regional security architecture, which includes cooperation with Egypt, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners,” he said. “My goal is to further strengthen our partnerships in this region to deter and defeat threats and ultimately, to temper our adversaries’ designs.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)