| GEO World|
| Robert Gates to arrive in Israel today|
| Updated at: 1751 PST, Sunday, July 26, 2009|
WASHINGTON: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates heads to Israel on Sunday for talks covering missile defense, Israel's plan to acquire the multinationalF-35 fighter jet and efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.
During a visit that will last about six hours on Monday, Gates is to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss those and other bilateraldefense issues, a senior U.S. defense official said.
"We're talking about the threats and challenges that we see in the region," the official told a small group of reporters on Friday. He said the Israelis were "antsy" about Iran but were not leaning on the Obama administration to halt its effort at expanded direct diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
After Israel, Gates will visit Jordan for talks with King Abdullah and his defense chief that will focus on coordinating efforts to leave a stable Iraq after U.S. forces complete their scheduled pullout by the end of 2011.
"We see pretty eye to eye with the Jordanians on most of the security challenges," the official said. Israel and the United States, among others, fear that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear arsenal under cover of an electricity generation program, a charge Tehran denies.
Israel and the United States also view Iran as a profound threat to regional security because of its military aid to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Palestinian group Hamas and to Lebanese Hezbollah.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States might cope with a nuclear Iran by buttressing its allies and spreading an unspecified "defense umbrella" over the region.
Clinton's remarks drew a quick rebuke from Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor. He said it would be far better to keep Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold than to try to counter it with any defense network.
"We already have long-running defense understandings with the Americans, and I can only hope this will continue," Meridor told Reuters on Thursday at a diplomatic reception north of Tel Aviv, reflecting apparent unease over what may be divergent views on coping with the perceived Iranian threat.