Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived in Washington, D.C., Sunday as the guest of his US counterpart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
A statement released by an IDF spokesperson said that the two “will conduct a series of work meetings together, as well as meetings with other American officials. They will also discuss current security challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation.”
Sources in Israel’s security establishment told Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that during the five-day trip the two sides will deal primarily with developments and possible risks stemming from the civil war in Syria. The main issue will be how the United States and Israel will deal jointly in the case that rebels or Hezbollah take control of chemical weapons now in the hands of the Syrian army.
Yediot Ahronot also reports that Western sources have indicated that Israel, the United States and possibly NATO would carry out air operations and even use ground forces to prevent chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of rebels or Hezbollah.
The meeting comes amidst mounting tension in the Middle East. Reports surfaced last week that Israel had struck a weapons convoy in Syria overnight Tuesday. In a rare move Syria confirmed an attack had taken place but said that the target was a scientific research center. Despite silence on the part of Israeli officials it was later reported by TIME magazine that Israel had struck multiple targets.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded to last week’s alleged Israeli strike for the first time on Sunday while speaking with Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili in Damascus. He said that Israel’s aggression “exposes the true role conducted by Israel in collaboration with the external forces hostile [to Syria] in destabilizing security in Syria and weakening it so that it forgoes its national principles.”
Assad said after the meeting that “Syria, with the power of its army and adherence to resistance, is able to confront all the current threats and curb any aggression against the Syrian army and its historical and cultural role.”
Also Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was the first Israeli official to make public mention of the airstrike/s in Syria.
Barak brought the issue up at a gathering of the world’s top diplomats and defense officials in Germany, initially saying: “I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago.”
But, addressing the audience in English, he added: “I keep telling frankly that we said – and that’s proof when we said something we mean it – we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”