Chuck Hagel (right) has landed in Israel, using his first visit as Pentagon chief to tell the country it must decide for itself whether to use force against Iran. It is the first stop on a five-country Mideast tour.
The US defense secretary told reporters on his flight from Washington that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that the two countries share the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Hagel did acknowledge some differences with Israel on the question of when and if Iran will decide to go ahead with building a bomb. However, he said a planned weapons deal with Israel should send a message.
"I don't think there's any question that's another very clear signal to Iran," Hagel said.
The government in Tehran says its nuclear program only aims to produce electricity; Israel is particularly skeptical of this.
Hagel's first visit to the Middle East as Pentagon chief will also take him to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He will discuss a set of arms deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth $10 billion (7.65 billion euros). Yet to be finalized, the transactions would provide those countries with a range of weaponry, including aircraft and missiles.
Sunday's talks are also expected to focus on Syria's civil war.
mkg/msh (AFP, AP)