Israeli defense officials expressed satisfaction Thursday with news that Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, United States Security Coordinator to the region, was staying on in his position for an additional two years.
Western officials said that President Barack Obama's envoy to Israel, George Mitchell, had asked Dayton to stay in his position for another two years. Dayton's three-year assignment was due to end this year.
According to media reports, the Obama administration plans to more than double Dayton's working budget from $75 million in fiscal year 2008 to over $130 million. With the increased budget, Dayton will be able to boost security assistance to the Palestinian Authority and assist in training more Palestinian battalions in Jordan. Four such battalions are currently deployed in the West Bank. US officials could not confirm the reports.
"Dayton is a professional officer who takes his job very seriously," explained one Israeli defense official. "An extension of his term is a demonstration that the administration wants to keep the situation here stable."
IDF sources said that OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni and Dayton had developed strong ties and saw almost "eye-to-eye" on the need to bolster the PA forces and permit their deployment in additional West Bank cities. Forces are currently deployed in Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron.
At the same time, the sources expressed concern that under the Obama administration the IDF would come under pressure to begin transferring security over West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority.
The PA forces in Hebron and Bethlehem were instrumental, officials said, in keeping a lid on Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank during January's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. While the IDF is satisfied with the PA forces, it is concerned that Mitchell and Dayton will use the success to push for an expansion of the deployment, including the transfer of security to the PA.