US Defense Secretary Mark Esper quietly met with the leaders of Israel and Bahrain this week amid a Trump administration push for the Abraham Accords to prop up regional cooperation to counter Iran.
The stopovers came amid Esperâ€™s return from South Asia, where he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Indiaâ€™s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Pentagon did not announce Esperâ€™s visits to the Middle East until he had already departed.
The US defense chief met with Bahrainâ€™s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama as well as the commander of the US Navyâ€™s 5th Fleet, Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo.
A Pentagon press release said Esper â€œgot a feel for operations in the Persian Gulfâ€ and the threat Iran could pose to the area.
â€œIran has seemed to back off from provocations,â€ the press release said. Last year the United StatesÂ accused Iran of sabotaging Gulf oil tanker shipments with limpet mines and launching drones and cruise missiles against Saudi Arabian oil facilities in response to Washingtonâ€™s â€œmaximum pressureâ€ campaign to isolate Tehran economically.
On Thursday, Esper arrived in Israel to meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Breaking Defense reported thatÂ recent talks between Esper and Gantz involvedÂ the planned transfer of more advanced F-35 avionics and satellite technology, including the early missile detector space-based infrared surveillance system. Al-Monitor could not independently verify the report.
On Thursday, the Trump administration notified Congress of its proposal to sell the United Arab Emirates the highly advanced F-35.
Details of last weekâ€™s agreement with Gantz were not publicly announced, but Esperâ€™s latest trip to the region was kept unusually quiet by the Pentagon.
NBC reported Thursday that senior Pentagon officials have received briefings on a potential active threat on US military officials involved in the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January.
The warnings came after an Iranian national followed a senior Pentagon official in a car last month, but the FBI concluded it was not clear whether the driver had any direct connection to Iran or its governmentâ€™s promise to retaliate for the Soleimani assassination.
It is not clear if the threat warning was a cause for the secrecy surrounding the US defense secretaryâ€™s trip.