US, Israeli military chiefs stress cooperation to tackle challenges
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US, Israeli military chiefs stress cooperation to tackle challenges

Dunford’s second visit to the Jewish state in six months demonstrates the importance the relationship, he says

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Strong ties between Israel and US will be needed to confront the “instability in the region,” according to Defense Minster Moshe Ya’alon and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., who met in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

“The thing that gives me confidence that we’ll actually be able to deal with these challenges is that we have partners and allies to help us,” Dunford told Ya’alon.

It is the US general’s second official visit to Israel since taking his post in October. During that visit, Gen. Dunford, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and US military officials also met with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and additional representatives of Israel’s defense community.

This visit comes on the heels of Ya’alon’s announcement that a new 10-year military aid package from Washington is set to be finalized “in the coming weeks.”

Dunford arrived in Israel early Thursday morning after a two-day visit to Afghanistan, where he attended the change of command ceremony for US and NATO forces in the country.

Representatives from the United States, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, meet with Israeli defense officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, in the Defense Ministry's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 3, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Representatives from the United States, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, meet with Israeli defense officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, in the Defense Ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 3, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

This visit also coincides with the ongoing Juniper Cobra exercise, a large-scale joint Israeli-US missile defense drill that takes place every two years. The exercise is meant to prepare the two militaries for the threat of a missile attack, as well as allowing the armies to learn how to better work together

“This is your second trip in a very short time. Your visit now, including your visit to the Juniper Cobra exercise, which we are managing together, is another demonstration of the depth of the relationship between our armed forces and intelligence agencies,” Ya’alon said during their meeting in his office in the Defense Ministry’s headquarters.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford salute during an honor guard ceremony at the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford salute during an honor guard ceremony at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Dunford’s trip to Tel Aviv in mid-October 2015 was also his first official visit to a foreign country in his position, which he took over from Martin Dempsey on October 1.

“My first visit overseas was [to Israel], and I appreciate the warm welcome I had. This is my second [visit] in a short period of time, and I think that reflects what you said — how important this relationship is,” Dunford told Ya’alon during their meeting.

“The relationship between our two countries is about much more than just the military to military relationship, but I believe that’s one of the foundational elements,” he added.

On Wednesday, officials confirmed US Vice President Joe Biden will visit Israel next week for high-level talks. The discussions are expected to include negotiations over the defense aid package, which officials have suggested may be finalized during a possible trip to the US by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this month.

Israel and the United States have been seeking to move past deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear accord, which Netanyahu strongly opposed, and work out a new long-term defense aid package for Israel that aims to preserve its qualitative military edge in the region.

The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — Iron Dome (short-range missile interceptor), David’s Sling (medium range) and Arrow (long range).

A test of the David's Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)
A test of the David’s Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)

US military aid to Israel currently stands at $3 billion annually, a sum that, according to reports, Israel wants to up to $5 billion annually.

Though some Israeli officials have reportedly threatened to hold out until US President Barack Obama leaves office in the hopes of securing a better deal, the package is expected to be finalized when Netanyahu visits the US later this month.

As part of the new agreement, Israel in November was said to have completed its “shopping list” of desired American military materiel, which reportedly includes a request for V-22 Ospreys, planes believed capable of reaching Iran.

Israel reportedly sought the V22s from the US in 2012 when contemplating a strike on Iran’s Fordo enrichment facility, but later decided not to purchase due to budgetary restraints.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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