Commander Of U.S. Troops In Middle East Makes Unannounced First Visit To Israel
The head of the U.S. army’s Central Command, or CENTCOM, which is responsible for military activities in the Middle East, is in Israel for the first time for talks expected to focus on Syria and tensions with Iran. The unannounced visit by General Joseph Votel comes at a time when President Donald Trump is considering withdrawing American troops from Syria, a move that Jerusalem—along with Sunni Arab countries and, reportedly, much of the U.S. defense establishment— objects to on the grounds that such would embolden Tehran. It also comes amid reports that Russia is considering transferring control over its S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems to the Assad regime, which could alter the strategic balance in Syria by limiting Israel’s ability to conduct aerial missions in the country. During his trip, Votel is scheduled to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other senior defense officials. The visit holds added significance given that Israel generally liaises with the U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, as other Mideast countries have in the past not wanted to be seen as cooperating militarily in any way with Jerusalem.