US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Israel on Thursday for a series of meetings with senior government officials, marking his first visit to the Jewish state since becoming the top US defense official.
Upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Mattis was greeted by Israel’s military attaché to the US, Brig. Gen. Miki Edelstein; the US Embassy in Israel’s Chargé d’Affaires Leslie Tsou; and the US military attaché in Israel, Brig. Gen. Ricky Rupp.
Mattis is scheduled to sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday morning, in a meeting expected to focus on regional challenges including Iran’s efforts to dominate the region, and its use of proxy fighting forces in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The situation in conflict-ridden Syria, the fight against Islamic State and other terror groups, and the two nations’ security cooperation will also be on the agenda, the PMO said.
Mattis is also scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The US defense secretary is also set to meet with President Reuven Rivlin during his two-day visit.
Prior to arriving in Israel, Mattis also stopped in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of a week-long tour to US allies in the region.
He is also set to visit Qatar and Djibouti, both of which house US military bases, before heading back to the US.
The Middle East is familiar turf for Mattis, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war who rose to four-star rank. He finished his military career as head of Central Command, which directs US military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia.
Mattis met with Liberman at the Pentagon during the latter’s visit to Washington in February, with Liberman telling his US counterpart at the time that Israel hopes for an “active America” in the Middle East.