US military chief back in Israel amid aid talks
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford to meet with defense minister, IDF head, reaffirms Washington’s ‘unparalleled military cooperation with Israel’
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, landed in Israel on Thursday for talks with senior Israeli officials to discuss ongoing military cooperation between the two allies.
This visit is Dunford’s second to Israel since taking the post in October, and comes on the heels of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s announcement that a new 10-year military aid package from Washington is set to be finalized “in the coming weeks.”
A statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Dunford would meet with Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during the visit.
“The visit reinforces the strong and enduring US-Israel defense relationship, and continues our unparalleled military cooperation with Israel,” the statement said.
The IDF said the two would “discuss a variety of issues during the visit,” but did not mention the aid package.
Dunford arrived in Israel after a two-day visit to Afghanistan, where he attended the change of command ceremony for US and NATO forces in the country.
On Wednesday, officials confirmed US Vice President Joe Biden would 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 reported trip to the US by Benjamin Netanyahu later this month.
Israel and the United States have been seeking to move past deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear accord, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly opposed, and work out a new long-term defense aid package for Israel that aims preserve its qualitative military edge in the region.
US military aid for Israel currently stands at $3 billion annually, and, according to reports, Israel wants to up the amount 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.
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).
Every two years, a joint US-Israeli military exercise is held aimed preparing the two militaries for the threat of a missile attack, as well as allowing the armies to learn how to better work together.
The latest biennial US-Israeli defense drill kicked off last month in Haifa. Thousands of soldiers from both armies have taken part in the multi-day event.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.