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US defense secretary to arrive in Israel for talks with Israeli counterpart

US seeks to reassure allies it remains committed to the region

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing after participating a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel today for talks with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Austin is expected to discuss both the current escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories, as well as the Iranian threat with Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. is concerned that increasing violence in the Palestinian territories could distract attention from Iranian activities.

Israel’s preoccupation with terror incidents "detracts from our ability to focus on what the strategic threat is right now, and that is Iran's dangerous nuclear advances and continuing regional and global aggression," according to the official.

Israel has been conducting arrest raids into Palestinian controlled towns and cities in an attempt to reduce terror attacks within its own territories.

On Thursday morning, Israeli undercover forces, while attempting to arrest two terrorists suspected of shooting at soldiers, were ambushed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists. The three attackers were killed in the ensuing firefight.

Austin’s meeting with Gallant and Netanyahu will not take place in Jerusalem, though, as planned protests will make traveling to the capital difficult. Instead, they will meet at a location near Ben Gurion International Airport.

Austin is currently on a Middle East trip designed to reassure U.S. allies that the Biden administration remains committed to the region.

He visited with King Abdullah II in Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi earlier this week. While the defense department noted the focus of the trip is Iran, Austin did not discuss the Iranian situation with King Abdullah II but centered his discussions on the escalating violence in the Palestinian territories.

Analysts expect that Iran will be the Jewish nation's main focus during the meetings and that Israel will likely make specific requests for assistance against the Iranian nuclear threat.

Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “Both Arab partners and Israelis are wondering whether the U.S. is serious when it says they’ll never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

He added that he does not think Israel and the U.S. have the same priorities regarding Iran.

“I think the administration is very worried about the possibility that Israel would decide to attack. I think that ultimately, the Biden administration prefers to accept a nuclear Iran than an attack to prevent a nuclear Iran,” Bowman added.

Austin also made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he affirmed the U.S. strategic relationship with the country.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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