US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday night departed for a visit to the Middle East.

“I’m headed to Israel, Bahrain, and Qatar to underscore US commitments to strengthening regional security and stability, and working with partners and allies to advance defense capabilities,” he wrote on X.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced details of Austin’s trip, which will also include a visit to the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is underway now in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

“In Israel, Austin will underscore the unwavering US commitment to Israel's right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law, and he will also discuss steps Israel is taking to mitigate civilian harm,” the statement said.

“The secretary is also expected to discuss with Israeli military leaders what are to be the next steps in the conflict after an eventual cessation of high-intensity ground operations and airstrikes,” said a senior defense official at the Pentagon.

“"[Secretary Austin] has been having discussions with his Israeli counterparts the entire time about the different phases of their campaign, how they assess the different phases of their campaign, and what their operational milestones are in order to feel that their population can be secure enough given their stated objective of the military dismantlement of Hamas," the official added. "He wants to talk to them about how you move through those different phases."

While the conflict between Israel and Hamas is an Israeli campaign and it will ultimately be Israeli's decision on how to move to the next phase of operations, Austin is interested in learning more about their plans going forward, the official said.

"It's for [Israel] to determine when they assess that Hamas has been sufficiently degraded [so] that they can shift to the next phase of their campaign," the official said. "We, as the Department of Defense, and Secretary Austin in particular, I think, [have] incredibly valuable perspectives on this and that's what he wants to consult with them about."

Austin becomes the latest US official to visit Israel, and he follows National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan who was in Israel for a two-day visit this past week.

In Bahrain, Austin is expected to visit US Naval Forces Central Command. Part of the discussions there between the US and Bahrain will involve US efforts to convene multilateral coalitions to respond to aggression at sea that threatens shipping and the global economy, said the Pentagon.

"We will talk with them in a multinational framework about the work we're doing, particularly in light of increasing Houthi aggression in the Red Sea," the official said.

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, the official said Qatar has played a critical role in helping the U.S. communicate with Hamas. That effort was critical in securing the agreement for the release of some hostages. Qatar was also recently named a "major non-NATO ally" of the U.S. and plays host to U.S. forces at Al Udeid Air Base. The secretary will visit that installation.