Defense Minister Lieberman Meets U.S. Counterpart Mattis in Washington

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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis welcomes Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the Pentagon, March 7, 2017.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis welcomes Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the Pentagon, March 7, 2017.Credit: Cliff Owen/AP

Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman met with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Tuesday night.

Shortly before leaving for Washington, Lieberman termed Mattis a true friend who was committed to Israel’s security. He said he planned to discuss the two countries’ shared security challenges, in particular Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East and the Syrian civil war.

Late on Tuesday, Lieberman was due to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. On Wednesday he is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

While Lieberman is in Washington, the head of the U.S. Army’s European Command, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, is visiting Israel. On Tuesday, Scaparrotti was given a tour of Israel’s Arrow missile interception system at the Palmahim airbase. He also visited the Gaza border, where Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, commander of the Gaza Division, gave him a tour of one of Hamas’ cross-border tunnels.

On Monday, Scaparrotti met with President Reuven Rivlin and toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial, escorted by his host, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Scaparrotti said there was close and ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli armies, based on many years of mutual trust. He also said the United States is committed to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge and defensive capabilities.

One of the shared security concerns that Mattis and Lieberman discussed was Lebanon. According to a statement put out by Lieberman’s office, Israel is very concerned about the direction taken by new Lebanese President Michel Aoun, especially the way he is “turning the Lebanese Army into part of the array of forces led by Hezbollah.”

American weaponry has been given to Hezbollah in the past, raising concerns among senior Israel Defense Forces officers.

Lieberman told Mattis that America’s current positions are important “to remove obstacles to stability in the Middle East,” according to the statement. He also urged the Trump Administration to seize opportunities to strengthen moderate forces in the region, adding that Israel needs “an active America in our region.”

Israeli-American cooperation is critical not only for Israel’s security, but also for the security and stability of the entire Middle East, Lieberman continued. He said the global axis of evil currently extends from Iran to North Korea.

Lieberman’s spokesman said after the meeting that the atmosphere between the two men was warm and friendly.

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