With Eye on Iran, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis Arrives in Israel

James Mattis, touring the Middle East, will spend two days meeting with Netanyahu, Rivlin and Lieberman

James Mattis speaking with reporters after arriving in Israel, April 20, 2017.
James Mattis speaking with reporters after arriving in Israel, April 20, 2017. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis landed in Israel on Thursday to discuss the Syrian civil war, the fight against the Islamic State and the Trump administration’s policy on Iran.    

Mattis is on his third day of a five-day tour of the Middle East, having already visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On his first trip to Israel in his current capacity, he will spend the next two days meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Mattis is also expected to discuss the monitoring of Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal with the major powers, as well as next month’s presidential election in Iran.

Mattis is considered a relative hawk on Iran. He has said that the three most urgent problems for the United States in the Middle East are “Iran, Iran and Iran.” Lieberman has also advocated a tougher policy on Iran, which he considers Israel’s main problem.

“Everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting with senior Saudi officials on Wednesday.

In Israel, Mattis was received at Ben-Gurion Airport by members of the U.S. Embassy and Israel's defense attaché in Washington, Gen. Mickey Edelstein.

An honor guard at army headquarters in Tel Aviv will receive him on Friday, after which he will meet with Lieberman and hold a joint press conference.