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Lloyd Austin at the White House. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

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.  

Go deeper

Apr 5, 2021 - World

Israel's split screen: Netanyahu on trial as post-election consultations start

Netanyahu arrives in court on Monday. Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty

As the first witness in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial took the stand on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin was consulting with representatives of Israel's political parties as to who should form the next government.

Why it matters: This split-screen moment between the Jerusalem district court and the president’s residence encapsulated the political and legal crisis that has engulfed Israel over the last two years. The crisis appears likely to continue now that a fourth election has ended with no clear winner.

Apr 6, 2021 - World

Netanyahu tapped to form new Israeli government, despite no majority

Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Two weeks after Israel's fourth consecutive election, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday gave the mandate for forming a new government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's path for forming a coalition is very, very narrow. Although he received the mandate from the president, Netanyahu does not at the moment have a majority in the Israeli Knesset that will allow him to form a new government. 

Apr 4, 2021 - World

Jordan claims businessman who offered to help arrested prince is former Mossad agent

Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein in 2009. Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

An Israeli businessman with ties to the U.S. government was in touch with former Jordanian Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein when he was put on house arrest on Saturday, and proposed to send a private jet to take his wife and kids to Europe.

The intrigue: The Jordanian government claims the Israeli has connections to the Mossad spy agency, while the businessman stresses he's only a friend of the prince.