Beginning this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Israel, Germany, the U.K., and visit the NATO headquarters in Belgium the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Secretary Austin will meet with his counterparts and other senior officials to discuss the importance of international defense relationships, and reinforce the United States’ commitment to deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security,” the Pentagon said.

In Israel, Secretary Austin will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Austin will be the highest-ranked official of the Biden administration to visit Israel to discuss “shared priorities” and reaffirm Washington’s commitment to Israel maintaining military superiority over its neighbors, according to a Pentagon statement.

The Importance of Austin’s Visit to Israel
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shaking hands at the end of the original JCPOA negotiations, July 14, 2015, Vienna.

In the closing months of the Trump administration, the U.S. assured the Israelis that they will continue to have a qualitative military edge in the Middle East. But Tel Aviv worries that under President Biden Washington will no longer abide by those assurances. 

Nevertheless, the real reason for Austin’s visit to Israel and the importance of it has to do with the Iran nuclear deal. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press conference that the U.S. is prepared to “take the steps necessary to return to compliance” to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed by the Obama administration in 2015.

Although Price wasn’t specific he mentioned that those steps will include “lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with” the stipulations of the JCPOA.

Under the JCPOA, the U.S. had released billions of dollars to Iran in return for a limit on its nuclear enrichment. Nonetheless, the Iranians used much of that cash to finance terrorism throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.  

Now, the signatories of JCPOA — Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have gathered in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear agreement. They are working out how to revoke the economic sanctions Trump reimposed on Iran after the U.S. had withdrawn from the JCPOA in 2018, and how to bring Iran back into compliance with the agreement’s limits on nuclear enrichment and stockpiled enriched uranium.