Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on a multi-day trip to Israel and Jordan for discussions on how regional alliances and partnerships can help contain the evolving threats of terrorism and civil unrest in the Middle East.
Beginning his trip with a stop in Israel, Dempsey noted today that since he assumed office he has met with Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, chief of general staff of the Israeli defense forces, more times than any of his other counterparts.
Meetings between the two on this visit will be much like any other, though the challenges have become “even greater” since their last encounter, the chairman told reporters travelling with him.
“In each case, it’s a discussion about how he views the threats to Israel in the region, how we in the United States view the threats that could emanate out of the region -- globally and to the homeland -- and how we can continue to work together to make both of our countries more secure,” the United States’ top military officer said.
The chairman said he also expects the discussions with Gantz to include a fiscal dimension. Israel, he noted, is facing a cut in its own defense spending to balance a budget deficit.
“I know he’ll have exactly the same question for me,” he said. “So it’s important that we continue to share information; not just about the threats that might affect … us, but also about how changing resources have to be addressed in that equation.”
Dempsey noted that after leaving Israel he will travel to Jordan, a nation about which he has learned much since he took command of U.S. Central Command more than five years ago, he said.
“There, too, you’ve got a long-standing relationship with a military that has been a very close partner … and has also deployed with us,” he said. “Physically, with my counterpart, I want to understand how they see the issues -- both emanating out of Syria, but also emanating out of Egypt -- affecting their plans moving forward.”
Jordan has Syria on its northern border and, to the south west, Egypt lies less than ten miles across the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. Dempsey last month called the situation in Syria “a human tragedy.” The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict that has now raged in that country since March 2011. U.N. officials said the Syrian civil war has led to the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide -- more than 1.5 million Syrians have fled the country and millions more are internally displaced.
One of the central challenges in crafting an effective international response to Syria is identifying a moderate opposition group that might establish stability if Bashar Assad’s regime falls, Dempsey said. The chairman said part of the United States’ approach to the Syria situation is to increase the self-defense capabilities of its international partners, “whether those partners are Turks, through our NATO channels; Lebanese armed forces; Jordanian armed forces; Israelis -- and as well, the Iraqis,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey said U.S. partners in the region may become “even more eager partners” as events in Syria keep unfolding.
“I think our ability to find common ground and common purpose with our regional partners is actually increasing,” he added.
Conflict in the Middle East moves in cycles, Dempsey said, noting, “Our adversaries will always migrate where we’re not, on that spectrum of conflict.”
He added that one of the lessons of history is that “What is symmetric today is asymmetric tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow it’s symmetric again. It’s a series of actions, reactions and counteractions.”
The challenge facing America and its close partners, Dempsey said, is how to build agility into the system, not abdicate any point on the spectrum of conflict, and find ways to collaborate and even become interdependent.
Those kinds of conversations, he added, “I have with our closest allies.”