TEL AVIV, March 3 (Reuters) – Israel hosted the top U.S. military officer, Army General Mark Milley, on Friday for discussions that it said included the need for cooperation on denying Iran nuclear weaponry.
Milley made the previously unannounced visit ahead of a trip to Israel by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that will also include neighbouring Egypt and Jordan – U.S.-aligned Arab states that have influence on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
“Ongoing cooperation is required in order to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s office quoted him as telling Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Milley made no public remarks in Israel. His spokesperson said Milley discussed regional security issues and “coordination to defend against threats posed by Iran” in his talks with Chief of the Israeli General Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi.
Amid its long-stalled negotiations with world powers on renewing a 2015 nuclear deal, Western powers say Iran has made advances with technologies that could potentially yield it a bomb. Tehran denies having any such plan.
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In January, the United States and Israel held what one U.S. official described as the allies’ most significant joint military exercise to date, involving thousands of forces, a dozen ships and 142 aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers.
Milley’s trip also comes amid spiralling violence in the West Bank, with stepped-up Israeli military raids following a spate of Palestinian attacks. Fears of escalation ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival have prompted the United States, Jordan and Egypt to appeal for calm.
At least 62 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed since the start of 2023, the Palestinian health ministry said. Thirteen Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist died in Palestinian attacks in the same period, according to official Israeli figures.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Dan Williams; editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens)