WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel faces a wide variety of threats ranging from Islamic militants wielding missiles and rockets to nuclear attack, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday during a visit to the United States.
Yaalon was speaking with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the National Defense University in Washington. Carter emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Israeli security relationship and the United States’ commitment to maintaining close ties.
Carter and Yaalon are due to visit the Naval Air Station in Maryland on Wednesday for a demonstration of the F-35 joint strike fighter. The United States has said it will deliver the F-35 to Israel next year, making it the only country in the Middle East to have the top-flight aircraft.
Yaalon ticked off a number of threats that he said Israel has faced, including from Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, and Iran.
“The threat has been changed dramatically from conventional type warfare to what might be called super-conventional...weapons of mass destruction, or sub-conventional like terror, rockets, and missiles,” Yaalon said.
Close U.S.-Israeli ties have come under strain in recent months over a nuclear agreement negotiated between Iran and the United States and other world powers, which Israeli officials have denounced as empowering Iran and endangering Israel.
Yaalon said the deal, which was agreed in July and imposes curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in return for the removal of some economic sanctions, could delay an Iranian nuclear threat against Israel.
“Yes, for the time being, for about a decade or so, it (Iran’s nuclear program) might be postponed as a threat against us,” Yaalon said, adding that the Iranian government had not given up its “vision of having a military nuclear capability.”
Iran denies ever pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and said that it wanted nuclear capability only for civilian purposes.
Yaalon also addressed ongoing strife between Israelis and Palestinians. Violence has flared in Israel, Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Yaalon said claims that Israel had violated agreements related to the holy site were false.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced cautious hope that there may be a way to defuse the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Marguerita Choy