Carter: We want stable defense relations with Israel

The United States is interested in working together with Israel on defense-related issues despite disagreements on Iran and other topics, says Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Speaking to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview published Tuesday and which took place shortly after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s visit to Washington last week, Carter said the defense relationship between the two countries should be “one of stability and endurance”.

His message to Ya’alon, both during Ya’alon’s visit to Washington and Carter’s visit to Israel last July, is that the two countries should find what they can agree on despite the differences with regards to the Iran deal.

“We have to move on to the business we have in common and that means, specifically with respect to Iran, working together to counter their other malignactivities in the region, which are just as worrying to us as they are to Israel, and to monitor the implementation of the agreement,” said Carter.

He stressed that it was not just the Pentagon, but the Israeli Ministry of Defenseas well, that wanted to expand the parameters of the dialogue beyond the Iran deal. Carter told Goldberg that when he visited Israel in July, he was pleased to see that the defense establishment was interested in discussing cyberwarfare and the conventional rocket threat from Hezbollah, as well as the Iran nuclear deal.

“Only the next day did I see the prime minister, with all that as the backdrop,” he added.

Netanyahu, Carter said, made his views on Iran “abundantly clear,” but he also “came to understand, if he didn’t understand it from the beginning, that I was a longtime friend of Israel and of Israelis and of the IDF.”

Carter also praised Israeli military innovation, and credited Israel with aiding in America’s defense.

“It’s a two-way relationship,” he told Goldberg. “There’s no question that it’s not symmetric, but it is two-way—we really do get things from the Israelis in technology. I hesitate to make invidious comparisons, but if you’re making comparisons to, say, the European legacy arms [industry], the guys who have made the tanks and planes and ships in Europe, they’ve been very slow to come out of the industrial age. The Israelis you will find to be more clever and more innovative.”

Goldberg noted that a perennial topic of discussion between Israeli and U.S. defense officials is the maintenance and strengthening of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). Carter said he assured Netanyahu Washington would maintain the program requiring the Pentagon to guarantee that Israel is sold more sophisticated weapons systems than those sold to what Carter refers to as “the sum of all Sunnis.”

There is “no question that we can or will maintain QME”, Carter said he told Netanyahu.

The meeting between Ya’alon and Carter came ahead of a meeting between Netanyahu and Obama scheduled for November 9. It will be their first meeting since the Iran deal was reached last summer.

Ya’alon said at last week’s meeting that Israel perceives the Iran deal as “done” and that it looking to the future.

The comments were perceived as ending Israel’s objection to Iran’s deal with the West, came on the heels of comments by senior American officials, who said after Netanyahu’s UN speech that the Israeli premier had said that speech would be his swansong on his public fight against the accord.