Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said Thursday during a visit to the headquarters of the US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida that Iran and the US will continue to increase cooperation in countering Iranian aggression.

Gantz made his remarks while touring the base’s air refueling wing with U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla. This was the first visit of an Israeli defense minister to the CENTCOM headquarters.

According to a statement issued by the Defense Ministry, Gantz and Kurilla discussed joint exercises and increased cooperation on land, sea and air, as well as in cyber security and intelligence.

“I want to thank General Kurilla for having me,” Gantz said. “Israel’s cooperation with CENTCOM and regional countries is a game changer in our ability to maintain security, stability and peace in the Middle East, especially in the face of Iran and its proxies,” he added.

“We will continue to increase our cooperation, expand actions necessary to target Iranian proxies, and ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We all understand the need to ensure that Iran never has a nuclear umbrella under which it can spread terrorism and threaten the world and the Middle East,” Gantz said.

He added that he intends to deliver the message during a scheduled meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington on Friday.

In December, Israel asked the US to speed up the delivery of purchased refueling planes to be used to attack Iranian nuclear sites – but the Biden administration said the first plane would not be delivered until 2024.

The State Department approved the sale of eight new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel in March last year. It is unclear whether Gantz’s visit to CENTCOM’s air refueling wing was related to the pending contract.

Citing American and Israeli officials, The New York Times reported at the time that Gantz made the request during a meeting with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington.

The report noted that the tankers would be a significant upgrade for Israel, and that without them, Jerusalem would have to rely on its aging fleet of refueling planes for strikes on Iran or pit stops in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. None of them wants to be linked to an attack on rival Iran.

Current and former officials are cited in the report as saying that Israeli military planners believe that any attack on Iran would likely require multiple strikes against the underground Fordow uranium enrichment facility, some of the sites that require rapid refueling.

A U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft docks with an F-35 fighter jet over California, Jan. 22, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

Gantz is visiting the US in the same week as a trip by Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, both carrying messages of displeasure from Jerusalem at the pace of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Iran said on Wednesday it had received a US response to a proposal to return to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, scrapped by then-US President Donald Trump in 2018.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize the administration’s response to the latest proposal, but noted that “we are closer now than we were a few weeks ago because Iran has decided to make some concessions.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid told reporters on Thursday that Israel’s efforts to influence the outcome of the negotiations had paid off, but that the deal was still a “bad deal” for Israel.

According to a Channel 12 report Thursday, the emerging deal would not require the U.S. to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terrorist organizations, nor would it waive Iran’s requirement to explain sites of suspected nuclear activity to the International Atomic Energy Agency. agency.

Before leaving for the U.S. on Thursday, Gantz tweeted that the goal of his trip was to “send a clear message regarding the nuclear deal negotiations between Iran and the powers that be: A deal that doesn’t roll back Iran’s capabilities for years and does. Don’t hold it back for years to come. which will harm global and regional security.

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