U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will pay a first visit to Israel since taking office later this month to bolster the allies' cooperation in the Middle East, an Israeli official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Hagel and his counterpart, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon who is also newly appointed, discussed the visit by phone last month, the Ministry of Defense said. The official said Hagel would visit between April 21-23.
Hagel's visit will follow a trip by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories to try to restart long-stalled peace talks and after a visit last month by President Barack Obama.
Iran's perceived nuclear threat, an issue that is regularly on the agenda between the two allies, is certain to feature highly in discussions.
The United States heavily funds Israeli missile defense systems that protect against short-range rockets and missile that militants in the Gaza Strip launch at Israel, as well as the threat of long-range missiles.
When Hagel hosted former Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon in March, the American defense secretary assured him that he was committed to the security of Israel and of preserving the Israel Defense Forces' qualitative advantage over the armies of the Arab world. He also said that he would work to ensure that U.S. funding toward Israel, particularly with regard to its defense systems, would continue "despite fiscal uncertainty."
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