Top US military officer to visit Israel, Jordan next week

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The top US military officer is going to Israel and Jordan next week for a visit focused in part on Iran and the war in Syria, the US military said on Wednesday.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet in Israel with his counterpart Benny Gantz to discuss advances in Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel regards as an "existential threat."

"In Israel, the chairman expects to discuss the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security, including potential threats from Iran, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and uncertainty in the Sinai," his office said in a statement.

While in Jordan, he plans to visit US troops and get a better feel for how the conflict in Syria is affecting Jordan and the region, it said.

The exact dates of the visit were not disclosed but his office said he would leave Washington over the weekend.

Gen Dempsey's visit comes just days after the inauguration of Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani, who has called for "serious" talks on Iran's nuclear programme without delay.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, on Tuesday pressed the United States to step up pressure on Tehran, warning that otherwise it "will go all the way" and develop nuclear weapons.

Both the United States and Israel - which has the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal - have refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran from developing a weapons capability.

Instability in the Sinai is also expected to figure in Gen Dempsey's talks in Israel. Attacks by Islamist militants have increased there since the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi.

In Syria, the US administration promised in June to increase military aid to the rebels, after accusing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons.

Gen Dempsey, however, has been reticent about deepening the US military involvement in the conflict, and since March 2011, Washington has limited itself to non-lethal support for the rebels and humanitarian aid.

Fearing the Syrian conflict could spill over into Jordan, the United States has deployed F-16 fighters and Patriot missile defences, along with about 1,000 US troops, to protect its close Mideast ally.