The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, was in Israel on Friday for talks with senior security officials on Iran and other security issues.
Milley met with his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other top security officials at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv.
The two sides discussed cooperating “to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The officials also discussed “security developments” and “strengthening the special security and strategic ties between Israel and the US,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. There was no immediate statement on the meeting from the US.
The talks had been expected to focus heavily on Iran and violent tensions in the West Bank.
“They will address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region,” Milley’s spokesman Colonel David Butler said ahead of the meeting in a statement quoted by Reuters, without elaborating.
Milley’s trip follows revelations that Iran has enriched uranium to near weapons-grade level and several recent airstrikes attributed to Israel that hit Iranian targets in Syria.
It also comes ahead of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s upcoming visit to Israel, which Gallant’s office announced after the two spoke last week.
During that phone call, Austin urged Gallant to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank after a deadly anti-terror raid in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, though violence has continued to simmer over the past week as three Israelis were killed in two separate terror shootings and settlers rampaged through a Palestinian town in response to one of the attacks.
The US condemned all of those incidents and also forcefully denounced far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call to “wipe out” Huwara, where one of the deadly shooting attacks and subsequent settler rioting took place.
The Biden administration has urged Netanyahu to disavow the comments by Smotrich, one of several members of his to tussle with the US since the premier’s return to power in late December at the head of a right-religious coalition.
The US condemnation pointed to a further escalation of frustration in Washington with Israel days after the Biden administration expressed its outrage over the deadly rioting, and called on Israel to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate the dozens of Palestinians whose property was destroyed.
The rifts have added pressure to the existing strain between Jerusalem and Washington over differences in policy regarding the Palestinians, with Israel’s approval of unprecedented amounts of settlement expansion in the West Bank drawing repeated condemnations from the Biden administration.
Amid the growing tensions between the US and Israel, Axios reported that Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi are slated to visit Washington next week for meetings with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior US officials to discuss coordinating against Iran. While the Israeli officials will likely want to focus the talks on Tehran’s nuclear pursuit, the US has often used such meetings to also discuss the Palestinian issue.
Emanuel Fabian and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.