Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. / Brendan Smialowski, AP
JERUSALEM - The growing threat of extremists to both Israel and its Arab neighbors creates opportunities for the long-time rivals to find common ground in combating a common enemy, America's top military officer said Monday during a visit here.
"The threat narrative is converging in the region in a way that I think is positive," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It seems to me to be a significant opportunity."
The balance of power has shifted dramatically in the region over recent years, raising the prospect of opportunities for security cooperation among former rivals. Increasingly, Israel and Arab governments see a common enemy.
The shift has come as the Arab spring has led to the collapse of order in many parts of the region and Islamic extremists have tried to capitalize on the power vacuum left in its wake.
Iran's Shiite government, a rival to the Sunni Arab regimes, has been seen as increasingly belligerent by both Sunni Arab states and Israel.
U.S. officials say it is too early to say what form the cooperation might take or whether a shift will take place, but Dempsey said he has discussed the prospect with Israeli officials.
"There are enough issues across the region in common that it should provide an opportunity for greater cooperation so that our allies become allies with each other in a way that maybe we haven't seen in the past," Dempsey said.
"Jihadis are not fighting only against Israel," said Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, said before a meeting with U.S. officials.
Still, analysts warn that there are so many competing interests among nations a broad strategic shift is not a given.
"The trouble is there are crosscutting issues, threats and narratives," said Stephen Biddle, a national security analyst and professor at George Washington University.
For example, Israel and the United States are focused heavily on Iran's nuclear ambitions, but some Arab governments place a higher priority on other forms of Iranian influence, such as Tehran's support for Syria.
The mostly Sunni Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have been particularly concerned about Iran's influence in the region. Some of them have been supplying arms and supplies to opposition forces in Syria, who are battling the Iranian-backed regime of Bashar Assad.
"As threats evolve so too does our system of alliances to deal with them," Dempsey said.
Follow @jimmichaels on Twitter.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Dempsey: Israel, Arab governments share security fears