Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Friday during U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ visit to Jerusalem, said that Israelis “sense a great change” has occurred in America.
Mattis’ stop marked the first visit to Israel by a Cabinet member in the new Trump administration.
“I think this is a welcome change, a strategic change of American leadership and American policy,” Netanyahu said.
Mattis met with Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin after speaking with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Leiberman in Tel Aviv. Lieberman praised Mattis’ “clear and strong approach” to North Korea, Syria and Iran.
Watch: Israeli Leaders to Mattis: A ‘Welcome Change’ of American Leadership
The U.S. defense secretary said Israel and the United States have a common enemy in militant Islamists, and he vowed to “do whatever it takes” to achieve peace. That includes defeating Islamic State and confronting Iran, which Mattis said continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors with ballistic missiles, through its maritime activities, and through its proxies and surrogates such as Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that’s helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power.
“I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that if good people don’t band together, then bad people can do a lot of damage in this world, and we’re committed to stopping that and doing whatever it takes to pass on peace and freedom to the next generation,” Mattis said.
Strike on Syria
Israeli leaders applauded the U.S. missile strike that targeted a Syrian airfield this month, in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons on civilians.
Syria has moved its assets since the U.S. strike destroyed about 20 military planes, Mattis confirmed in a news conference in Tel Aviv earlier Friday.
“No doubt they have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” he said.
Syria and Iraq will be a top priority in talks with leaders at Mattis’ next stop, Qatar, which hosts U.S. military aircraft used in the counter-IS fight.