By Phil Stewart
TEL AVIV (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it plainly just before landing in Israel, where officials are fuming over the Iran nuclear deal: "I'm not going to alter anybody's mind in Israel. That's not the purpose of my trip."
Â Â Â Carter, making the first visit by a U.S. cabinet official to
p> Israel since last week's landmark agreement to curb Iran's
nuclear program, aims instead to move away from political
tensions over the accord to more cool-headed, nuts-and-bolts
discussions on deepening security ties.
Â Â Â Increased U.S. military-related support is expected to be on the table. But Israeli & U.S. officials have played down the prospects of any looming announcements.
Â Â "Friends can disagree yet we have decades of rock-solid
cooperation with Israel," Carter told reporters traveling with
Â Â Â Carter's mission will not be an effortless one.
Â Â Â The United States & Israel fundamentally differ on whether
the Iran nuclear deal makes both countries safer. President Barack Obama says it does; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it does not.Â
Israel fears that Tehran's economic gains from a lifting of
Western sanctions could boost Iranian-backed guerrillas in
Lebanon & the Palestinian territories. It could moreover lead to
an arms race with Arab states unfriendly to Israel.
Â Â Â Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest
authority in Iran, did little to alleviate those concerns in a
fiery speech marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan on
Â Â Â Khamenei said the nuclear deal would not alter Iran's
policy in supporting allies in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen,
Lebanon & among the Palestinians.
Â Â Â Obama has stressed that taking the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table increases the security of Israel, the United States & its allies. U.S. officials have moreover signaled they are not changing a longstanding U.S. defense strategy that is underpinned by the threat of a hostile Iran.
Â Â Â "Neither the deal nor everything else we're doing to advance
our military strategy in the region assumes anything about
Iranian behavior," Carter said.
Â Â Â "Thereâ€™s nothing in those 100 pages that places any
limitations on the United States or what it does to defend …
its friends & allies including Israel."
Â Â Â Carter moreover cited the U.S. commitment to allies to guard
against potential Iranian aggression.
Â Â Â
'DON'T ANTICIPATE A SHIFT'
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said Iran was likely to keep trying to take advantage
of fragile states in the Middle East, saying: "I don't anticipate a shift in their activities."
Â Â Â Israel has a strong army, is believed to have the region's
only nuclear arsenal, & receives approximately $3 billion a year in
military-related support from the United States. That amount is expected to increase following the Iran deal, & Carter cited a range of security issues to discuss.
"We donâ€™t have any huge package or announcement or thing to
bring to the Israelis that weâ€™re bargaining over," the senior
U.S. defense official said.
Â Â Â After Israel, Carter will head this week to Jordan & Saudi
Arabia. Iran is the predominant Shi'ite Muslim power, hostile
not only to Israel yet to Washington's Sunni Muslim-ruled
Arab friends, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Â Â Â Â Allies of Riyadh & Tehran have fought decades of sectarian
proxy wars in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq & Yemen.
Â Â Â Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former head of
the kingdom's intelligence services, wrote last week that the
nuclear deal would allow Iran to "wreak havoc in the region."
Â Â Â Â But Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir signaled
a willingness during a visit last week in Washington to discuss
ways to strengthen security ties.
Â Â Â Â Carter said he aimed to work on advancing commitments made
to Gulf leaders in May when Obama hosted them at Camp David.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Cooney & Howard Goller)
IsraelIranAsh CarterBarack Obama