Lloyd Austin Hails Strong Israel Ties As Iran Vows Revenge For Nuclear Outrage

Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin became the first senior member of the Biden adminstration to make a visit to Israel over the weekend, where he hailed the two countrys' relationship as "enduring and ironclad" as tensions rose after Iran accused Israel of causing a power outage of one of its nuclear plants.

"This is a relationship that is built on trust, which has developed over decades of cooperation," the defense minister said on Sunday, in a joint statement with Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz at a military base in Tel Aviv.

Gantz said Israel "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."

Lloyd added: "As a major strategic partner for the United States, our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. And during our meeting, I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz, our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is iron clad."

Meanwhile, officials in Tehran said that the Natanz uranium enrichment plant was the target of "nuclear terrorism" on Sunday, after initially reporting a power outage.

Thank you MoD @gantzbe for today’s important discussions on the regional threat environment and ways to deepen U.S.-Israel defense cooperation. I’m committed to continuing our close consultations on threats posed by Iran and to strengthening Israel’s security. pic.twitter.com/esGxb0c0Tg

— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) April 11, 2021

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told state TV that the incident caused no injuries or environmental damage. Although detail on the outage have been scarce, Iranian officials have described it as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls at the facility. The incident had set off a fire at the site, a former chief of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said.

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has vowed revenge in response to the power cut and that Natanz would be rebuilt, allowing Tehran to enrich more uranium.

"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions," Zarif was quoted by state media as saying on Monday.

"They have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists."

Israel has not commented on the outage, but local media has widely reported that it was orchestrated by America's main ally in the Middle East.

The White House said in a statement it was aware of the sabotage and that "the U.S. was not involved in any manner." It did not provide anymore detail.

Just hours after the incident was reported by local and regional news agencies Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees Tehran's nuclear program, said it had heard about the attack but declined to elaborate.

Tensions between Israel, Iran and the United States have risen sharply in recent months after several attacks on ships in the region, blamed on variously on both countries and the assassination of Mohsen Fakrizadeh, Iran's top nuclear scientist, in broad daylight in Tehran last November.

The United States and European allies have been trying to revive the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. Under the terms of the deal, global powers would lift sanctions on Iran if the Persian state curbed its uranium enrichment programme. However, the terms have been violated on both sides. Iran has repeatedly denied seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Newsweek has contacted to the Pentagon and State Department for comment.

Lloyd has now departed Israel and is in Europe to meet with Nato allies in Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Lloyd Austin with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a statement after their meeting at the Premier's office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. Austin made the trip to Israel as tensions rose after Iran accused Israel of causing a power outage of one of its nuclear plants. Menahem Kahana/Getty