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US Defense Sec'y Mattis: Israeli Alliance 'Cornerstone' of Regional Security

US Defense Secretary James Mattis, Photo AP

During his first official visit to the Middle East, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis echoed Israeli defense officials' warning that Syria is still in possession of chemical weapons.

"I can say authoritatively they have retained some," Mattis said during a press conference in Tel Aviv.

"It's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically and they would be ill advised to try to use any again – we made that very clear with our strike," he warned.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greeted Mattis warmly, hailing the U.S. as his country's greatest ally.

"It is a really great honor, a pleasure, to welcome you secretary of defense, not only as the secretary [of defense] of our greatest ally, but as a former general, and not only as a general, but as a real soldier, and a leader," he said.

Part of the purpose of Mattis' trip is to discuss U.S.-Israel ties, as well as address the ongoing challenges facing the region – namely the danger posed by Iran.

Noting the the Islamic Republic's continued threats to the Jewish state through Hezbollah and cyber attacks, Mattis reiterated America's "unwavering commitment to Israel's security and its qualitative security advantage over Iran," the Israeli daily Israel Hayom reports.

"Our alliance with Israel is the cornerstone of a larger regional security architecture, which includes cooperation with Egypt, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners," he said. "My goal is to further strengthen our partnerships in this region to deter and defeat threats, and ultimately, to temper our adversaries' designs."

Mattis also addressed the threat of ISIS, calling the jihadist army a "clear and present danger."

"The coalition campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is on track and we've accelerated an intensified campaign to surround and isolate the enemy so we  [Notes:can]  methodically remove its physical caliphate," Mattis said.

The defense secretary noted the significance of the timing of his visit, which comes ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"Obviously the week before the Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important we remind ourselves that if good people don't band together and work together across all religious and all ethnic lines then bad people will dominate, and we are not going to allow it, we are going to work very very closely," he said.

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