US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Jeddah May 14, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Wednesday and is due to meet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for bilateral defense talks on strategic and Middle East regional security issues.
The two are expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, as well as Israeli-American military cooperation, which remains close.
Hagel is to meet with Ya’alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning, where he is set to be welcomed with a guard of honor. The two will then hold a joint press conference.
On Thursday afternoon, Hagel will visit Hatzor air force base near Ashdod.
Hagel on Wednesday wrapped up a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he urged Arab Gulf states to unite in confronting common threats such as Iran, even as the Arab states struggle to overcome divisions over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
“The most pressing security challenges threaten this region as a whole – and they demand a collective response,” Hagel said during the opening remarks of a meeting of defense ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council in Saudi Arabia.
“This approach is how the region must continue to address the threats posed by Iran,” he said.
He arrived in Jeddah on Tuesday and met senior Saudi officials including Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan.
Most of the GCC’s six members – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – are wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East, as well as the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, but their responses vary from barely concealed hostility to diplomatic engagement.
However, efforts led by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s biggest regional rival, to forge a united front against Tehran have been complicated by an unprecedented rift within the GCC over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
While the feud prompted Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar in early March, the Gulf countries, encouraged by Washington, appear to be seeking to repair ties and in April agreed on ways to implement a security agreement.