U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
In a statement released before his meeting with Mattis, Netanyahu said he sensed a “great change” in the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
“This change is welcomed in our region and world -- a strategic change of American leadership and policy,” he said.
At the meeting, Mattis reiterated Washington’s longstanding commitment to Israel’s security.
“It is important to remind ourselves that if good people do not unite, bad people will do harm,” he said.
He added: “We are obligated to do whatever it takes to ensure that the next generation lives in peace and freedom."
Earlier the same day, at a joint press conference with Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, Mattis asserted that Syria’s Assad regime continued to maintain a chemical-weapons stockpile.
"There is no doubt that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of the UN Security Council resolution," Mattis said, referring to UNSC Resolution 2118 of 2013, which called on the Assad regime to give up its stocks of chemical arms.
Answering questions as to whether the Syrian regime had recently moved some of its aircraft to a Russian military base in Syria’s northeastern Latakia province, Mattis said: "No doubt they dispersed their aircraft in recent days."
Lieberman, for his part, declined to comment on unconfirmed reports that the Syrian regime still held between one and three tons of chemical weapons.
Addressing recent Iranian threats to Israel, Mattis said that Washington recognized the threat posed to Israel and other states of the region by Iranian ballistic missiles.
“Iran continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors with ballistic missiles through its cooperation with Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” he said.
Later Friday, Mattis is expected to meet with Israeli Army Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot.
The U.S. defense chief arrived in Israel on Thursday for a two-day visit. His visit comes as part of a regional tour that brought him to Egypt and Saudi Arabia earlier this week.