Moshe Ya'alon on the USS Carney
Moshe Ya'alon on the USS CarneyAriel Hermoni, Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) paid a visit on Monday to the American destroyer USS Carney, which is anchored at the Haifa port and taking part in the Juniper Cobra 16 joint training between Israel and the US.

Ya'alon was met on board by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, US military attaches in Israel, as well as commanders of the battleship. Ya'alon and Shapiro were given an overview of the destroyer's operations and capabilities, as well as a tour of the ship.

The Defense Minister called the drill "additional proof of the very special, very deep and very important relations between our great friend the US and the state of Israel, between the Sixth Fleet and the Israeli Defense Forces. (It is) a drill that deals with the defense of the state of Israel from rocket and missile fire."

According to Ya'alon, the joint drill is meant to strengthen Israel's defenses and to protect regional stability in the Middle East.

He emphasized that Israel is trying to bring other countries into play in the region that is full of radical Islam and brutal regimes. He listed those who Israel is working to get involved as: "to the west of us Greece and Cyprus which are close, of course NATO at further distances, and to the east of us more than a few Arab countries who are dealing with the same challenges that we face today."

"There is no doubt that the US-Israel axis is the central axis in the attempt to stabilize the security situation in the region, and for that I greatly value the crew of the ship, US military members, and the Pentagon for the special relations with the Defense Ministry and the (ties of the) American government under President (Barack) Obama towards the government of Israel. Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador," he added.

Turning his attention to the standoff over American military aid, Ya'alon said the Israeli government is currently holding discussions with the American government over the defense spending package for the next ten years. 

"The topic up for discussion is of course the amount of aid for the coming decade, I estimate that this topic will reach an agreement in the coming weeks," he said.

"Hamas is building tunnels"

Ya'alon then spoke about the security threats from the Hamas terror enclave of Gaza, where the IDF estimates Hamas is focusing its efforts on one major terror tunnel breaching far under the security barrier.

"Regarding the Gaza Strip, since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 already more than a year and a half has passed, and we are enjoying an unprecedented quiet," said Ya'alon.

"Hamas has not fired even a single bullet," he added. There have been trickling rocket and sniper attacks, but Hamas denies having been responsible for them.

"True, it (Hamas) continues to build strength, that is clear to us, we never thought that wouldn't happen. It also is trying to arm itself with rockets, (but) not with the same success that it had before. Because of the difficulties in smuggling today from outside it is forced to produce (rockets), and therefore we see lots of tests towards the sea."

Ya'alon said that in Gaza "there is a shortage of materials to produce rockets, and they are trying to improvise and of course are digging tunnels. Both defense tunnels and attack tunnels, we are not fooling ourselves."

"We in parallel are preparing for the possibility that sometime - and I hope it will be as far away as possible - a war front will once again open in the south and we will need to deal with that."

Ya'alon promised that the IDF is not "getting stagnant, not regarding our defensive measures and not regarding our offensive measures, and therefore I can at least promise residents of the Gaza Belt region first and foremost that we will continue to do our best so they can continue to be busy building more homes, developing the towns, and indeed we see demographic and economic development in the Gaza Belt towns and that truly is a blessing."