Israeli defense chiefs heading to Washington for talks on Syria


TEL AVIV (JTA) — A delegation of Israeli defense officials will reportedly visit Washington, D.C., later this week to discuss Israel’s security needs concerning Syria and Lebanon with their American counterparts.

The talks will not address President Donald Trump’s nascent push for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, a senior White House official told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad intelligence agency, will head the delegation, which will also include the chief of the Israel Defense Forces’ military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, and the director of the Defense Ministry’s political-security department, Zohar Palti, Haaretz reported.

The Israelis will meet with notably Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster; the deputy national security adviser, Dina Power; and special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, the White House official said.

Israel has expressed concern that the cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia in southern Syria last month will allow Iran to gain a foothold on its northern border. At the Cabinet meeting Sunday, Cohen warned that Iran, Hezbollah and other Shiite forces were amassing in the area.

“The region is changing to our detriment,” he told ministers.

Later that evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly warned that “the Islamic State is exiting, Iran is coming.”

“Our policy is clear: We firmly oppose the military buildup of Iran and its proxies — primarily Hezbollah — in Syria,” he said. “And we will do whatever it takes to protect Israel’s security.”

At the same time, the Hebrew media reported that Netanyahu is promoting a law that would allow him to declare war, or order a military operation that could lead to war, with the authorization of only the 10-member security Cabinet rather than the full Cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz that the talks were part of routine security dialogue between Israel and the United States.

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