Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Israel Monday for talks with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on coordinated responses to regional threats while both the U.S. and Israel cope with defense budget cuts.
Gantz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, is also facing military spending cuts and wants details on how the Pentagon is dealing with the sequestration process, Dempsey told reporters on the aircraft en route to Tel Aviv.
Dempsey's second visit to Israel since becoming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be followed by talks in Jordan, where the U.S. has stationed several hundred ground troops and a squadron of F-16s to bolster the government of King Abdullah, which is under strain from the influx of 560,000 refugees from Syria.
In announcing Dempsey's visit last week, the Defense Department said his discussions would focus on "potential threats from Iran, the ongoing civil war in Syria and uncertainty in the Sinai" in the ongoing turmoil in Egypt since the military takeover last month.
"In each case, it's a discussion about how [Gantz] views the threats to Israel in the region, how we in the United States view the threats that could emanate out of the region -- globally and to the home and -- and how we can continue to work together to make both of our countries more secure," Dempsey said.
The U.S. has been exploring the possibility of renewing talks with Iran on its nuclear programs since the election of new President Hassan Rouhani, considered a "moderate" compared to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called Rouhani a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
Dempsey's visit followed on the downturn in relations with Russia after President Obama cancelled a summit with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week over the grant of political asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
The U.S. had been urging Russia, the main supplier of weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to drop its support of the Damascus regime and back a Geneva peace conference on the civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 100,000 combatants and civilians.
However, Russia has demanded a place at the peace conference for Iran -- a proposal that is a non-starter for the U.S. -- and the various rebel and opposition groups have yet to agree on a sole representative for negotiations.
In May, the White House pledged to send small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels, but the opposition has repeatedly complained that the weaponry has yet to arrive. Dempsey has consistently warned of the dangers of U.S. involvement in another civil war in the Mideast, but has said that the military was prepared for a range of options aimed at ousting the Assad regime if ordered by the White House.
Dempsey's visit coincided with the re-opening of most of the U.S. embassies across North Africa and the Mideast, including the embassy in Amman, Jordan, that were shut down last week amid what U.S. intelligence agencies termed "credible threats" from Al Qaeda offshoots in the region.
The exception was the U.S. embassy in Yemen, where the U.S. has carried out at least eight drone strikes since late July against elements of the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terror group.