Sat 7:43pm: Hagel on first trip to Mideast as Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is starting a weeklong trip to the Middle East to consult with Israeli leaders on Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program, and to put finishes touches on a large package of U.S. arms sales.

It’s Hagel’s first Mideast visit as Pentagon chief.

Hagel left Washington on Saturday evening and will visit Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Each is a longstanding U.S. security partner. And each is concerned by the threat of Syria’s collapse and by Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. is finalizing $10 billion in arms deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that will provide them with a range of weaponry, including aircraft and missiles.