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US military chief reassures Israel after Egypt revolt

Feb. 14, 2011 9:32 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 15, 2011 8:47 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The top US military commander reassured Israeli leaders on Monday that military ties between the allies remain as strong as ever in the face of the changes sweeping the Middle East.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen was dispatched to Israel and Jordan to reassure them the fall of veteran Western ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of mass protests would not affect the US alliance system in the region.

"The connection and the relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces goes back decades," Mullen said ahead of a meeting with President Shimon Peres.

"The strength of this relationship is something that we both depend on, and it's particularly relevant in these very difficult times," Mullen said, alluding to the events in Egypt and Tunisia.

Israel has been fearful that the events unfolding in Egypt could lead to the unraveling of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, a cornerstone of Israel's defense policy.

And Israel was critical of the United States for supporting the pro-democracy protests, saying that Mubarak had been instrumental in preserving the treaty and stability in the region.

Israel's fears were eased slightly when Mubarak handed power to the military, which said in a statement on Saturday that Cairo would continue to respect all its treaties, including with Israel.

But Israel still fears that a hostile Islamic regime could emerge from the turmoil.

The United States, which helped broker the peace deal is the main guarantor of the pact, giving both countries billions in aid, much of it military.

Peres reiterated how important US support was for Israel.

"For us, the US is the best friend we have and we are full of respect for the American military and see it as one of the most important institutions. The greatness of the US is that you draw strength from giving and not from taking," he said.

During his visit, Mullen met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, their offices said without giving details of the talks.

He also attended a ceremony in which Lieutenant General Benny Gantz took over as armed forces chief of staff.

Before arriving in Israel, Mullen met Jordan's King Abdullah II and chief of staff Lieutenant General Meshaal al-Zabn.
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