US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are expected on Thursday to discuss possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail and if their nations' leaders request it, a senior US official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The scheduled US talks with Gantz follow an October 25 briefing by Pentagon leaders to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on the full set of military options available to ensure that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon, the official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The US-Israeli preparations, which have not been previously reported, underscore Western concern about the nuclear talks with Iran that President Joe Biden had hoped would revive the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump.
The US official declined to offer details on the potential military exercises.
"We're in this pickle because Iran's nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale," the official said, while still voicing hope for discussions.
The Israeli embassy in Washington and Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gantz took off from Israel to Washington DC on Wednesday night. In addition to meeting with Austin, he is also scheduled to meet with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, as well as hold a meeting with think tank leaders.
Before departing Israel, Gantz said, "I am going on an important visit to the United States, our best friend, to meet with Secretary of Defense Austin and Secretary of State Blinken. In the meetings, we will discuss ways to preserve Israel's security supremacy in the region and security challenges, including dealing with Iranian aggression."
"Iran is a threat to world peace, to the region and seeks to become an existential threat to Israel. In the meetings, we will discuss the possible courses of action in order to ensure that it stops its attempt to become nuclear and thus expand its activities in the region," added Gantz.
Gantz’s visit to the US coincides with the resumption of indirect nuclear talks in Vienna between the US and Iran.
The indirect negotiations resumed last week, after a six-month hiatus following the election in June of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The talks ended abruptly on Friday, at which point Blinken criticized Iran and said it is not serious about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.