Israel’s deputy army chief, other top commanders arrive in US for security talks

Herzi Halevi and senior IDF commanders to hold meetings at Pentagon; trip comes after Iran launched missiles on what it claimed was an Israeli ‘strategic center’ in Iraqi Kurdistan

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Deputy military chief Herzi Halevi and other senior IDF commanders landed in the United States on Monday for an official visit amid rising tensions in the Middle East.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Halevi is slated to hold meetings with US defense officials at the Pentagon, as well as participate in a “strategic defense forum” with members of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Command and European Command.

Joining Halevi is Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of Iran matters; Hidai Zilberman, Israel’s defense attaché to the US; and Effie Defrin, the military’s international cooperation commander.

Halevi’s trip follows Iran’s launching of several missiles at what it claimed without evidence was an Israeli “strategic center” near the US consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil early Sunday.

That attack is thought to be a response to the deaths of two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders in an alleged Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital Damascus last week. The IRGC warned last week that Israel “will pay” for the deaths of officers Ehsan Karbalaipour and Morteza Saidnejad.

Israel has been anticipating an Iranian response, considering the senior ranks and importance of the officers. While casualties in strikes in Syria attributed to Israel are somewhat common, it is rarer that those killed are Iranian.

The Israeli military has defended airstrikes targeting Iranian targets in Syria as necessary to prevent foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.

Last week, Kelman and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi traveled to Bahrain to hold a series of meetings with Bahraini state and defense officials and US military officials at the US Naval Forces Central Command, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces headquarters.

A report claimed Kohavi also met his Qatari counterpart during the visit to discuss cooperation and the possibility of the Gulf state joining a regional alliance against Iran’s aggression in the region. Qatar has not normalized ties with Israel.

(L-R) Tal Kelman, head of the Strategic Division of the IDF Planning Directorate, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, Bahraini Defense Force chief Theyab bin Saqr al-Nuaimi and other Bahraini defense officials are seen during a meeting in Bahrain, March 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Meanwhile, images released Monday from Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, showed a damaged mansion, with no apparent signs of military or intelligence activity.

Local television station Kurdistan 24, whose nearby studio was also damaged in the strike, toured the compound, showing the extensive damage.

Sunday’s missile barrage coincided with a “pause” being hit in negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, due to Russian demands about sanctions targeting Moscow for its war on Ukraine.

Halevi’s meeting comes after Shin Bet security agency head Ronen Bar held talks with his FBI counterpart in Washington this week over the possibility of a flare-up with the Palestinians during Ramadan next month.

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