Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford met last week with his Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon as Tel Aviv pressed for a new multi-billion dollar military assistance package before President Barack Obama leaves office.
Dunford stressed the closeness of the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the talks with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Defense Department said in a statement.
“The majority of the discussion focused on regional security issues and ways the U.S. and IDF can expand and enhance the military-to-military relationship to ensure regional stability,” said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, the JCS spokesman.
Dunford also used an honor guard ceremony to present Eizenkot with the Legion of Merit, an award to foreign military and political officials for “performance of outstanding services.” Eizenkot’s two immediate predecessors, Lt. Gens. Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, also received the Legion of Merit.
Eizenkot was chosen to succeed Gantz in February 2015 by then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ya’alon was ousted in May as Netanyahu formed a new coalition government and later charged that Netanyahu was using “scare tactics” against the U.S. deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear programs.
“At this time and in the foreseeable future, there is [no] existential threat to Israel” from Iran, Ya’alon said. He also said he intended to run against Netanyahu in the next elections.
Eizenkot’s four-day visit to the U.S. included a trip to Utah, where he saw F-35 Joint Strike Fighters being prepared for delivery to Israel, which is expected later this year. The U.S. also helps fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Eizenkot’s visit coincided with meetings at the White House between Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice on a final draft of a new memorandum of understanding on military assistance to Israel that would come into effect in 2018 when the current one expires, according to Israeli media.
The current MOU guarantees Israel $3 billion in annual assistance, but the Israelis were believed to be pressing for a larger package that would be extended beyond one-year deals.