WASHINGTON: Building on the regional momentum that followed the US military action in Syria on April 6, US Defense Secretary James Mattis is to visit the Middle East and Djibouti on Tuesday for a five-day, five-stop tour.
Mattis’ second trip to the region since taking office in January will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti, according to an official statement.
The trip comes almost two weeks after the Donald Trump administration took the first US military action against the Assad regime in Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons. The action by the US was applauded by Washington’s partners in the Gulf and Israel.
The US defense chief will seek to “reaffirm key US military alliances,” and “discuss cooperative effort to counter destabilizing activities and defeat extremist terror organizations,” said the Pentagon.
Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told Arab News that Mattis’ tour “demonstrates the Trump administration’s early priorities in the Middle East.”
He expects that Iran, the fight against Daesh, the war in Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will top the agenda on Mattis’ trip.
“All of these countries (on Mattis’ trip) are key American partners working closely with the United States on these issues,” Heras added.
The stops in Saudi Arabia and Qatar “will be the most important,” according to the expert, “as the Trump administration will want to square away Gulf Arab support for post-Daesh stabilization plans in Syria and push back against Iran’s activities in the region.”
In Saudi Arabia particularly, Mattis “will continue to build on the outstanding rapport that he has with leading national security officials in the Kingdom.”
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Mattis during his visit to Washington last month.
The US Secretary of Defense visited both the UAE and Iraq in February.