Scoop: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to visit Israel next week
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to travel to Israel next week, Israeli officials tell me.
Why it matters: This will be the first Cabinet-level visit to the Middle East from the Biden administration, which has been shifting attention away from the region and toward China and Russia.
Driving the news: Austin is expected to arrive on Sunday and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. The agenda will include Iran and other regional issues like Syria and Lebanon, Israeli officials say.
- Israeli officials also intend to raise U.S.-Israel security understandings, reached in the final weeks of the Trump administration, on maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. Israel wants to ensure the Biden administration is committed to those understandings.
- It's not yet clear whether Austin will make other stops in the Middle East. The Pentagon declined to comment for this story.
Worth noting: In recent weeks, there has been an escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran in the Red Sea and the Gulf.
- According to several reports, last month Israel sabotaged dozens of Iranian ships and tankers that had transferred oil to Syria or missile parts to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- The Iranians retaliated by attacking two ships owned by Israeli businessmen in the Gulf, signaling to Israel that its ships are vulnerable too.
- On Tuesday, an Iranian ship operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was attacked in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen.