Joint Chiefs Chair to Pay Rare Visit Israel

The chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has accepted an invitation by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to visit Israel. He will be coming during the second week of December.

Admiral Mullen and Lt. General Ashkenazi met for the first time last week at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Visits to Israel by chairmen of the Joint Chiefs are very rare. Mullen's two predecessors did not visit Israel in spite of their frequent trips to the Middle East following September 11, in order to avoid the appearance of operational coordination between the two sides.

The willingness of Mullen to visit Israel so early on in his tenure, which began October 1, suggests a new approach. It also indicates the American administration's professional appreciation for Israeli skill, as seen in the September 6 operation in Syria.

In the coming months, and no later than February, Mullen and the other Joint Chiefs will draft a threat assessment report, which they will present to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Mullen's visit will allow Israel to present information that may influence the report - and Mullen's views for the coming year. This may be critical regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Mullen, 61, is the most senior officer in the Pentagon, and the U.S. president's chief military adviser. He plays a highly influential role in the U.S. administration, Congress and the general public. For instance, U.S. President George Bush will have a hard time embarking on a military operation against Iran if Mullen publicly expresses his reservations.