Top U.S. general to visit Israel amid strategy differences

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States' top military officer will visit Israel next week where he will meet the defense minister who has angered Washington by criticizing its strategies in the Middle East and Ukraine. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in Jerusalem on Sunday, an Israeli government official said on Saturday. Another official said he was expected to stay through Tuesday. In a statement, the Israeli military said Dempsey and his hosts would discuss "issues of mutual strategic interest, while continuing to build on this important defense relationship". The visit would reflect "the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security," it said. The U.S. State Department has said it is disappointed Yaalon has not apologized for remarks he made at a closed-door meeting this month ridiculing Secretary of State John Kerry's push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and saying that Washington's handling of the Ukraine crisis projected weakness. In remarks leaked to the media, Yaalon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, suggested that Israel might have to make good on a long-standing threat to attack Iran's nuclear program unilaterally if it lost faith in Washington, He responded to Washington's condemnation by saying he valued the alliance, but stopped short of apologizing. The Israeli military said the Dempsey visit would include media opportunities but that these had not been finalized. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Tom Heneghan)