Mullen to make unplanned stop in Israel after Afghanistan visit

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen was to arrive in Israel on Sunday for a meeting with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and senior Israeli military staff. The meeting was to follow the recent visit by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Washington, and the annual strategic dialogue between Israel and the U.S. in Tel Aviv.

Mullen’s unplanned visit to Israel comes as an unscheduled stopover following a visit to Afghanistan. Mullen met with Afghan leaders in Kabul as well as the heads of the U.S. army and NATO in Afghanistan to brief them on the dismissal of the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal was relieved of his command after he and his aides made disparaging comments about the U.S. administration in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. U.S. President Barack Obama has named General David Petraeus as his replacement.

Over the last year, the cooperation between the Israeli and American militaries has grown tremendously in a string of joint exercises and the constant exchange of intel.

Ashkenazi and Mullen speak on a secure line connecting their respective offices every week, and meet somewhere in the world every several months. Mullen last visited Israel some two months ago, when he said at a press conference that an attack against Iran would be a last resort.

During his brief visit on Sunday, Mullen was to meet with the heads of the military intelligence and planning units. The meeting was to focus on the preparation by both Israel and the U.S. for the possibility of a nuclear capable Iran.

The meetings with Mullen were to include Israel’s Navy commander Eliezer Marom, which was likely to bring the topic of last month’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship into the discussion. In the raid, nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli navy commandos.

The IDF views Mullen as someone who is capable of effectively presenting Israel’s stance in Washington. Officials hope that Mullen will become convinced during his visit that Israel acted appropriately during the May 31 raid of the Mavi Marmara, and that Israel should be allowed to investigate the event independently, without U.S. interference.