JERUSALEM, Israel -- The U.S. and Israel must maintain close ties as security challenges in the Middle East become more complicated, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday.
Hagel's comments came ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrapping up his first trip here since becoming defense minister.
"This is a difficult and dangerous time. This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever," Hagel told reporters.
"I'm committed to continue to strengthen this relationship, secure this relationship, and as you know, one of the main reasons I'm here is to do that," he said.
Netanyahu said that Israel "appreciates deeply" the military and security support from the U.S.
"It reflects a very deep alliance between our two countries and the defense of our common interests and our common values," Netanyahu said.
"Nowhere are these values and interests challenged more than by the arming of terrorist groups by Iran with sophisticated weapons, and equally, Iran's attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu added.
On Monday, Hagel met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and said the two countries had taken "another significant step" in the defense relationship between Israel and the U.S.
"The United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities…including: anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 re-fuelling aircraft, and most significantly the V-22 Osprey, which the US has not released to any other nation," Hagel said.
"The new radar and anti-radiation missiles, along with Israel's participation in the joint-strike fighter program, ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation.
"The introduction of the V-22 into the Israeli air force will give the Israeli air force long-range, high-speed and maritime search and rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies. These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the US and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future," he said.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Hagel continued on his Middle East tour, which will take him to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it would send 200 U.S. soldiers to Jordan possibly as part of a larger contingent of up to 20,000 soldiers that could be used to secure chemical weapons in neighboring Syria.
Israel's top military intelligence official, Brig.-Gen. Itai Brun, said on Tuesday the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels. Hagel said earlier that doing so would cross a "red line."