U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis landed in Israel on Thursday as part of his first official visit to the Middle East. Mattis met Friday with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Tel Aviv, before heading to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Pentagon chief was also scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin. While in the country, Mattis plans to discuss U.S. Israel ties and the challenges facing the Middle East, chiefly Iran and its attempts to consolidate its regional dominance.During a press conference in Tel Aviv, Mattis said Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 agreement to get rid of its entire stockpile. He reiterated the U.S.’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and its qualitative security advantage over Iran”, adding that Washington looks forward to increasing its defense ties with Israel and to “strengthen our alliance with Israel as a cornerstone of our cooperation with Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states. My goal is to increase regional cooperation.”Lieberman thanked Mattis for his “friendship, support and understanding of the complexities and challenges Israel faces. There is no doubt that the main problem is the axis of evil from North Korea to Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah in Beirut. The common thread is Iran, which is trying to erode stability throughout the Middle East. We [Israel and the U.S.] share the same positions and values, and we hope that with your support we will be able to overcome the threats and bring stability to the region”. Lieberman went on to say that “on behalf of the Israeli public and myself, I would like to express my appreciation to the Trump administration. We are delighted to see the first visit by a [Trump] cabinet member, and we hope President Donald Trump visits Jerusalem this year as well”.