December 18, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Secretary of Defense Visits Israel, Bahrain, and Qatar

December 18, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Secretary of Defense Visits Israel, Bahrain, and Qatar

Latest Developments

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on December 18 and met with his Israeli counterpart. Austin said on X that he and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant discussed Israel’s campaign to defeat Hamas as well as their shared commitment to counter the threat from Iran-backed terrorist organizations in the region. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General CQ Brown accompanied Austin on the trip, which also included visits to Bahrain and Qatar.

On the eve of his trip, Austin ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier to remain in the Mediterranean Sea. Following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the carrier had deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean to help deter Iranian-backed groups. Austin’s visit to the region comes as the United States weighs how to protect vessels in the Red Sea from attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Expert Analysis

“The Biden administration should continue to provide Israel with the time, space, and tools necessary to defeat Hamas. It is short-sighted and dangerous to pressure Israel to halt military operations in Gaza until Hamas leaders are brought to justice, the hostages are freed, and Israel has taken the steps necessary to ensure the terrorist organization can never again repeat the horrors of October 7. Critics in the West who want the war to stop should demand that Hamas release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and surrender.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The visits by the U.S. secretary of defense, head of the Joint Chiefs, and head of U.S. Central Command underscore the close relationship between the United States and Israel during a time of war. Israel became part of U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility in 2021, an important move that has enabled closer cooperation in the Middle East between the United States, Israel, and partner countries in the region. This is essential for deterring Iranian-backed threats, such as Hezbollah and the Houthis, and sharing lessons learned in the fighting in Gaza against terrorists.” — Seth J. Frantzman, FDD Adjunct Fellow

“Israel has been facing a significant challenge since the start of the conflict: having a limited timeframe to destroy Hamas due to pressure from the international community to stop the war. However, in part, Israel has managed to secure valuable time due to its close ties with the United States.” — Joe Truzman, Research Analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal

Head of U.S. Central Command Visits Israel

Austin’s trip comes on the heels of a December 15 visit to Israel by the head of U.S. Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to discuss the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Israel’s defense requirements. This is Kurilla’s third visit to Israel since the October 7 massacre. Kurilla met with Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, head of Israel’s General Staff, and Ronen Bar, director of the Israel Security Agency. General Kurilla also met with Israeli Air Force head Major General Tomer Bar and was briefed on Israeli air operations in Gaza, Israeli air defense systems, and Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian harm.

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Israel, U.S. Disagree on Post-War Gaza Rule,” FDD Flash Brief

Slow International Response to Hamas’s Sexual Violence Chastised by Blinken,” FDD Flash Brief


Gulf States Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power