In the backdrop of heightened tensions on the northern border IDF
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
embarked on a five-day visit to the United States as the guest of his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey.
A statement issued by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said that the parties will discuss joint security challenges, the security status in the Middle East
and military cooperation.
According to Israeli defense officials, the visit is meant to discuss possible developments in the Syrian civil war and the risks entailed. The main issue will be to form a joint response in case Syria's chemical weapons fall into the hands of the rebels or Hezbollah.
In his absence, Gantz will be replaced by his deputy, Major-General Gadi Eizenkot. Gantz is accompanied by wife, Israel's military attaché in Washington Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Ayash and head of the Planning Division Maj.-Gen. Nimrod Sheffer.
Last week, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi
visited Washington as reports of an alleged Israeli strike in Syria first surfaced. US officials refused to comment on the reports but warned Syrian President Bashar Assad against transferring weapons to Hezbollah.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
was the first Israeli official to publically comment
on the airstrike in Syria, suggesting that Israel had been behind it.
Barak brought the issue up at a gathering of the world's top diplomats and defense officials in Germany, initially saying: "I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago."
But, addressing the audience in English, he then added: "I keep telling frankly that we said – and that's proof when we said something we mean it – we say that we don't think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon."
Meanwhile, senior US defense officials interviewed by CNN refused to confirm that the United States was aware in advance of the airstrike in Syria last week, ascribed by foreign media outlets to Israel.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta refused to discuss the Syria incident but expressed concerns regarding terrorists acquiring chemical weapons and SA-17 missiles. Commenting on the Israeli Military Intelligence chief's visit to the Pentagon last week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said it was in preparation of IDF chief Benny Gantz's US visit.
Asked about a possible US strike in Syria, Dempsey replied that there will be no involvement of ground forces but stressed the importance of working with other partners. Panetts on his part stressed that the US is preparing for any scenario in order to ensure that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of "hostile elements."
Yitzhak Benhorin and Ron Ben-Yishai contributed to this report