Israel says U.S. should helm Mideast build-up against Iran

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Israel defence minister visits U.S. Navy base in Bahrain

JERUSALEM -Israel and Arab countries that share its worries about Iran should build up their military capabilities under Washington’s aegis, the Israeli defence minister said on Tuesday ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Biden’s July 13-16 tour will include Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia, a U.S. official said. According to Saudi state television, Biden will attend a summit with the leaders of Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

Iran’s nuclear programme, and so-far fruitless international negotiations to revive a 2015 deal capping it, are among issues likely to be on the agenda.

In a speech, Defence Minister Benny Gantz cited Israel’s security ties with Gulf Arab states that drew closer to it under a 2020 U.S.-sponsored diplomatic drive, as well as Egypt and Jordan, and said there were efforts to expand such cooperation.

“In the face of Iranian belligerence … what is needed is not just cooperation, but also a regional force build-up, with American leadership, which would strengthen all parties involved,” he said, according to an official transcript.

“On this, we are working continually, for the sake of the security of Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said.

Saudi Arabia signalled its backing for the so-called Abraham Accords under which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged relations with Israel two years ago. But Riyadh has stopped short of formally recognising neighbouring Israel.

Israel has voiced willingness to work militarily with its new Gulf partners, which have been more publicly reticent about such a prospect.

Speaking at an event on Tuesday evening, Bennett said Israel “will not hesitate to activate its power anywhere in the world to protect its citizens”, alluding to a travel advisory to Istanbul because of what Israel said was a threat of Iranian attempts to kill or abduct vacationing Israelis.

“Israel’s security arms are doing everything to thwart such attacks, and to preemptively neutralize those dispatching the terrorists, and the dispatchers’ dispatchers too,” Bennett said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by James Mackenzie and Angus MacSwan)

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