For the first time in over a decade, the British chief of defense staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, visited Israel earlier this week for a short meeting with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other senior officers, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The British Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that Stirrup had visited Israel earlier this week, as well as the Palestinian Authority. Spokeswoman Karen Kaufman refused to reveal additional details of his trip, which was kept under wraps by Israel and the UK.
Stirrup served as head of the Royal Air Force until 2006, when he was appointed chief of defense staff. While most of Stirrup's attention is on Afghanistan, where British troops are fighting, his talks with Ashkenazi focused on a wide range of regional issues, including Syria.
Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was considering a short-term increase in troop numbers for Afghanistan. The additional troops, Brown said, would be used to train Afghan security forces and hopefully accelerate the British exit from the country.
Stirrup was received at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv with a full military ceremony, including the IDF orchestra and members of the General Staff.
Defense Ministry officials said the talks focused on the development of new military platforms, and the joint Israel-US Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise that will take place next month.
The British buy a long list of Israeli military platforms, including the Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is made by Elbit Systems and is used successfully by the British Army in Afghanistan.
The IDF Spokesman's office released a statement saying that "the British chief of staff concluded a three-day visit to Israel on Thursday as a guest of Ashkenazi, during which the two discussed military cooperation between the countries."
Next week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will make a two-day trip to London for high-level talks that will focus mostly on the Iranian nuclear threat.
According to officials, Barak is currently working on convincing European countries to impose tougher sanctions on Iran after the dialogue between the Islamic Republic and the United States fails, as Israel predicts it will.
Ashkenazi also spoke with Stirrup about the effect of the United Nations Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead earlier this year. Israel is concerned that IDF officers may be prosecuted in European countries as well as England.
In 2005, former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog narrowly avoided arrest at London's Heathrow Airport in 2005.
The arrest warrant had been issued by the Bow Street Magistrate's Court as per the request of a pro-Palestinian Muslim group. The warrant, one of the first of its kind issued in Britain on charges of war crimes, alleged that Almog in 2002 had ordered the demolition of 59 Palestinian homes in Rafah.
Stirrup and his Israeli counterparts also spoke at length about different ways to counter the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat in Afghanistan. Israel has become a world leader in protection solutions for armor and infantry against IEDs.