Israeli army chief to head to US to discuss Gaza, Iran

By: AFP      Published: 11:26 PM, 17 Jun, 2021
Israeli army chief to head to US to discuss Gaza, Iran

Israel's army chief heads this weekend to the United States for talks, the first top official to do so since the new coalition of Naftali Bennett, the army said Thursday.

Aviv Kohavi is due to leave Tel Aviv on Saturday for a six-day visit, four weeks since Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers agreed a May 21 ceasefire, ending 11 days of heavy fighting.

Both the United Nations and Egypt are trying to bolster the fragile truce that was violated this week with the launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, and Israeli air strikes in retaliation.

Tensions remain high, with Palestinian militants in Gaza launching more balloons for a third day running on Thursday, according to Israeli firefighters battling the blazes sparked by the devices.

Kohavi will visit the US military's Central Command (Centcom) in Florida, with items on the agenda to include Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, Israel's arch-foe Iran, as well as Hezbollah, the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim group.

Kohavi will discuss "common security challenges", an army statement read, including issues "related to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iranian regional entrenchment in the Middle East, (and) Hezbollah's force build-up efforts".

Bennett, a Jewish nationalist who heads the coalition government that unseated veteran prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed that "Israel won't let Iran have nuclear weapons", a goal Tehran denies pursuing.

Both the UN and Egypt are hoping to support the reconstruction of Gaza following the 11-day war that saw whole tower block reduced to smoking rubble and key infrastructure smashed.

Israel and the US consider Hamas a "terrorist" organisation.

US President Joe Biden quickly congratulated Bennett, who is a staunch defender of Jewish settlement in the West Bank but governs in coalition with centrists and leftists.

Netanyahu had toxic relations with US Democrats after he rallied against ex-president Barack Obama's Iran policy, rejected moves for a Palestinian state and aligned himself with Republicans.