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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin Gantz Opening Remarks at Bilateral Meeting

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Minister Gantz, it's a pleasure to host you here at the Pentagon. I certainly appreciated your hospitality when we saw each other ahead of Israel's Remembrance Day. And I'm glad to have the opportunity to reciprocate following our own Memorial Day here in the States. I am anticipating that we'll have an afternoon of productive and frank discussions on a wide range of issues, as the minister and I usually do. 

Before we start, I wanted to reiterate that the administration's commitment to Israel's security is ironclad. We are committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself against regional threats, such as those posed by Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups. The administration fully supports your country's right to defend itself against rockets, rocket attacks fired indiscriminately by Hamas, and other Gaza-based militants against Israeli civilians. 

And I want to personally thank you again, Minister Gantz, for your role in implementing the cease-fire with Hamas. As you know, the president has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system which saved so many innocent lives during the most recent conflict. 

Now going forward, we seek lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. And I want to stress the importance of reducing tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem and of supporting humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza that benefits the innocent people who live there. 

Let me also stress that the Department of Defense supports President Biden's goal of a two-state solution. As my colleague Secretary Blinken made clear in Israel last week, a lot of work needs to be done to rebuild confidence and trust and to create conditions to reengage in a meaningful way on the path to a two-state solution. I am personally committed to supporting that work. 

Thanks, again, Minister Gantz, for being here, and I look forward to our discussions. 

MINISTER BENJAMIN GANTZ: Thank you, Secretary Austin. Thank you. Thank you so much for a warm welcome here. There is no question that we are in the time of great changes and new challenges. But there is one thing which stands strong, the strategic alliance, the shared values between Israel and the United States as well as the special ties between the DoD and the MoD. 

Two weeks ago, Israel came out of a recent round in Gaza it did not wish for, after Hamas, a terrorist organization, opened fire on our civilians. While Hamas aimed thousands of rockets at our civilian populations of Jews, Arabs, and Christians, the IDF used its excellent intelligence, precise munitions, and strict procedure to strike directly at Hamas military targets. Our Iron Dome defense system saved hundreds of Israeli lives, intercepting over 1,400 rockets that were aimed at residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, and hospitals. 

I would like to thank you, Secretary Austin, and the entire Biden administration for supporting Israel's right and duty to defend itself, and for maintaining Israel's QME, which assures stability in our region. 

This moment of challenge also brings opportunity for change. Following the military effort, it is now time of diplomatic acts which hopefully prevent or delay another military conflict. The United States and the moderate countries in our region will have a major role in ensuring the success of this process. And in our meeting, with your permission, I intend to present you a complete policy that will lead us there. 

These very days, Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons and contributes to all militias throughout the Middle East. Let me be clear, Iran is, first and foremost, a global and regional problem. And it is also an existential threat to Israel as its own leaders openly declare. 

I am well aware of the important dialogue about future agreement which will stop its nuclear armament. Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States, Europe, the countries in the Middle East, and Israel, and for the people of Iran as well. They too deserve a government that will devote itself to solving real problems rather than with developing weapons of mass destruction to threaten other people. 

Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons. Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself. We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion and by that manner only, not in the media in a provoking way. I am sure that through open dialogue behind closed doors, and in this spirit of cooperation and goodwill, we can achieve our goal. 

Finally, Mr. Secretary, I would like to share my personal gratitude for our many years of friendship, and for your openness to looking together at Israel's security needs. It serves the ultimate purpose of peace. Thank you.