Israel Warmly Welcomes Pentagon Chief

Israel Warmly Welcomes Pentagon Chief

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was warmly welcomed by his Israeli counterpart Monday on the first Cabinet-level U.S. visit to the Jewish state since the Iran nuclear deal was announced.

The Pentagon chief met at Israel's defense headquarters with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and on Tuesday is to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has strongly criticized the Iran deal.

Yaalon thanked Carter for his contributions to Israeli security and said Israel appreciates its friendship with the U.S.

The Israeli defense forces held a standard welcoming ceremony for Carter and he then went into a closed meeting with Yaalon.

On his flight to Tel Aviv, Carter said he has no expectation of persuading Israeli leaders to drop their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. But he said he'll emphasize that the accord imposes no limits on what Washington can do to ensure the security of Israel and U.S. Arab allies.

Netanyahu has argued that the deal clears the way for Iran to build nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel's existence and ultimately diminish U.S. and global security.

Even as tensions between the U.S. and Israel have grown over how to contain Iran's nuclear program has grown, the U.S.-Israel defense relationship has deepened in recent years.

The U.S. has invested hundreds of millions in an Israeli air defense system known as Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, mortars and artillery shells fired into northern Israel from southern Lebanon and into Israel's south from the Gaza Strip. The U.S. has worked with Israel on anti-missile systems and a wide range of other defenses. Two years ago the Pentagon committed to providing advanced radars for Israel's fleet of fighter jets and KC-135 refueling aircraft, and making Israel the first country to buy the V-22 Osprey hybrid airplane-helicopter.

(KA)