U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday, amid reports that Jerusalem could be readying a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Pentagon chief arrived in Amman, Jordan on Sunday for a Mideast tour which in addition to Israel will also take in Egypt. It marks Austin’s second diplomatic trip to the region as defense secretary. During his first visit, in April 2021, he met with then Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other senior officials.
During this week’s visit, Austin is slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and President Isaac Herzog.
While the Biden administration is concerned about escalating tensions in Judea and Samaria leading up to Ramadan, and Austin is expected to address these concerns on his visit to Israel, the Israeli government is heavily focused on countering Iran.
Last month, Israeli media reported on a series of secret meetings in which Netanyahu purportedly instructed the heads of Israel’s security establishment to significantly increase readiness for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Netanyahu reportedly relayed the conclusions from those meetings to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during their recent visits to the Jewish state. French President Emmanuel Macron was also updated on the meetings during Netanyahu’s visit to Paris, according to the reports.
Austin’s visit continues the Biden administration’s diplomatic engagement with Israel’s new government. In addition to Blinken and Sullivan, CIA director Bill Burns was recently in Israel for talks, and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley was in Israel on Friday to talk with counterparts.