JERUSALEM, Israel – U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives in Israel Thursday, following meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It's his fourth trip abroad but the first regional tour since taking office.
The focus of the tour is finding common ground among U.S. Middle East allies for defeating "extremist terror organizations," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon last week. He said the plan was still in its "skeleton form," but is being "fleshed out," including diplomatic and other non-military aspects.
Mattis begins his meetings in Israel with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who traveled to Washington in early March to reaffirm the strong military ties between the two allies. Mattis will also meet with President Reuven Rivlin and visit Jerusalem's Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial.
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Mattis. Afterward, Mattis flies to Qatar and then to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, to wrap up the tour. Mattis will visit Camp Lemonnier from which the U.S. launches drone missions over Somalia and Yemen.
Efforts to shore up ties with regional Middle East allies follows U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to Moscow last week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Tillerson – and to President Donald Trump – relations between the two countries deteriorated to a new low following U.S. retaliatory missile strikes on a Syrian air base in response to the Assad regime's chemical attacks on civilians.
And last week, the U.S. bombed an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan with an 11-ton MOAB (mother of all bombs), the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by U.S. forces.