Hagel: Israel is America’s Closest Friend and Ally in the Middle East

— by John Tackeff

In a speech at the Washington Institute on Thursday night, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed the close relationship between the United States and Israel:

Israel is America’s closest friend and ally in the Middle East. During a series of meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a former Washington Institute fellow, Minister of Defense Ya’alon, President Peres, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I conveyed our continued commitment to enhancing defense cooperation — which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years.

More after the jump.
Secretary Hagel made it clear that Israel has the full right to defend itself, and that the collaboration between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever:

One of the core principles of U.S.-Israel security cooperation is America’s commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge — it s capacity to defeat any threat or combination of threats from state or non-state actors. As I emphasized during the trip, Israel is a sovereign nation and has the right to defend itself.

The Department of Defense works closely with the Ministry of Defense to develop and field the versatile range of advanced capabilities Israel needs to defend its people and its interests. One current example, among many, is our close cooperation on rocket and missile defense efforts — including Iron Do me, Arrow, and David’s Sling.

Beyond rocket and missile defense cooperation, DoD has been working for more than a year to increase Israel’s ability to confront and respond to a range of other threats. These efforts culminated in our announcement last month that the United States has agreed to release a package of advanced new capabilities, including anti-radiation missiles and more effective radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft and the V-22 Osprey. Along with Israel’s status as the only Middle Eastern nation participating in the Joint Strike Fighter program, this new capabilities package will significantly upgrade their qualitative military edge.

Hagel also noted that the Obama administration is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and stressed that no option of doing so is off the table:

The United States will continue to lead diplomatic efforts and international economic sanctions to pressure Iran into abandoning the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and meeting their international obligations. There is a presidential election next month in Iran, and no one can predict with certainty if that might affect the future direction of Iranian policies. As you all know, President Obama has made clear that our policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and he has taken no option off the table to ensure that outcome. I stressed that point during my discussions in the Gulf.

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