JERUSALEM: US military chief General Martin Dempsey held talks with top Israeli defence officials on Friday on a 24-hour visit expected to focus on mounting tensions with Iran.
Dempsey arrived late on Thursday for his first to Israel since taking up the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October. He had dinner with armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz after arriving and held early talks with him before meeting the Defence Minister, Mr Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.
After the talks with Mr Barak, the US defence chief was to travel to Jerusalem to meet the President, Mr Shimon Peres and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum ahead of talks with the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu.
There was no immediate word on the agenda for that meeting but Israeli press reports said the two would discuss Mr Netanyahu's complaints that Western sanctions against Tehran do not go far enough and talk in Israel of the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
"The main disagreement pertains to the possibility of a strike on the Iranian nuclear sites," the Maariv daily said. "While an increasing number of voices can be heard in Israel supporting such a move, US officials are trying to calm the atmosphere, and fear that Israel could act without informing them or only provide a warning shortly in advance."
Quoting officials engaged in preparatory talks ahead of Mr Dempsey's visit, Maariv said they "would try to reach an understanding with the Americans and set a kind of red line based on various criteria, including timetables and actions on Iran’s part."
Israel and its US ally, like many other Western governments, suspect Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under cover of its civil programme, an ambition Tehran strongly denies. Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, fears a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has refused to rule out a resort to military action to pre-empt it.
Washington has been pushing instead for tougher sanctions against Iran, a policy that the President, Mr Barack Obama defended against his Republican critics on Thursday, saying that additional measures adopted in recent months had reduced Iran's economy to a "shambles."