U.S. Defense Secretary lands in Israel, marking first cabinet visit by Biden administration

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during International Women’s Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 8, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Shira Hanau

(JTA) — United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel Sunday morning and met with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz, marking the first visit to the country by a Biden administration cabinet member.

Austin touched down in Israel just hours after a power outage at an Iranian nuclear facility, in which a U.S. official said Israel played a role, according to the New York Times. The visit also comes as talks are underway for the United States to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

In a joint press conference, Gantz pledged to work with the United States on Iran.

“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel,” Gantz said, according to Haaretz.

Austin did not comment directly on Iran in his remarks but said the Biden administration would continue to back Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”

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“Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad,” Austin said.

Austin is also set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Austin will also tour Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, a custom for all visiting foreign dignitaries to Israel.