(Photo credit: Office of the Israeli Prime Minister)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on 9 March to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a hastily rescheduled visit due to massive anti-government protests against Tel Aviv’s judicial overhaul plans.
The protests also prevented Austin from leaving Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, forcing Israeli officials to host the US war chief at the headquarters of the Israel Aerospace Industries within the airport grounds.
Austin’s visit is part of a regional tour that included Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. He was initially expected to reach Israel on Wednesday to discuss well-worn allegations that Iran is “days away” from building a nuclear bomb and spiraling violence in the West Bank.
“We have a common agenda to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons … and to maintain the prosperity and security of this region,” Netanyahu said upon welcoming Austin to the airport.
#WATCH: Prime Minister Benjamin @netanyahu meets with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Ben Gurion Airport before leaving for #Italy .
🎥 Itai Beit-On/GPO 🔊Ben Peretz/GPO pic.twitter.com/AVYLG5ang9
— Israel National News – Arutz Sheva (@ArutzSheva_En) March 9, 2023
Immediately following his meeting with the US official, Netanyahu is expected to travel to Italy, where he will meet with his Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni.
Austin’s arrival in Tel Aviv coincided with the so-called ‘day of resistance’ protests as thousands of Israelis blocked traffic into the departures area at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Mass protests have been ongoing for several weeks against planned reforms to Israel’s judicial system that settlers fear would subordinate the supreme court to the executive and foster corruption.
His visit came just hours after Israeli soldiers gunned down three resistance leaders in the occupied West Bank, just two days after six Palestinians were killed in a raid on a refugee camp in Jenin, prompting resistance groups in Gaza to fire rockets at Israel and detonate an explosive device near the border.
A total of 78 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops and settlers this year, with 2023 set to be the deadliest in decades. Members of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government have recently made calls to “wipe out” Palestinian towns and villages.
Austin’s latest trip to West Asia also coincided with Israel bombing Aleppo airport in Syria, impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid to the quake-hit nation.