In an unprecedented farewell gesture to IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will arrive in Israel on Sunday to give a personal sendoff to the retiring Israeli army head.

Ashkenazi and Mullen have met close to 20 times over the past four years, and next week’s visit will be Mullen’s fifth trip to Israel.

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When he made his first trip in 2007, he became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs to visit Israel in a decade.

IDF sources said Mullen will arrive Sunday morning and hold a final working session with Ashkenazi. He will attend a farewell party for Ashkenazi that the IDF is planning for Sunday night on the campus of Tel Aviv University, where he is expected to speak.

Mullen will also attend the change-of-command ceremony at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, and immediately afterward will sit down with incoming chief of General Staff Maj.- Gen. Benny Gantz. The two know each other well from the period that Gantz served as the IDF’s attaché in Washington.

Over the years, Ashkenazi and Mullen have developed a unique friendship that has assisted Israel in retaining its strong strategic ties with the US even during the increase in tension between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration.

Mullen was last in Israel in June when he made a brief stopover on his way home from visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. During that trip, Mullen said he always tried to view regional threats from an Israeli perspective.

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