Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Washington early next week to meet with US President Donald Trump, just two weeks ahead of Israel's general election.
Plans for the trip were announced during Netanyahu’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
At the meeting, the two men discussed the buildup of Hezbollah terror networks along Israel’s northern border with Syria on the Golan Heights. Netanyahu has been pushing the US and the international community for official recognition of the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. “You can imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” Netanyahu told Pompeo. “We would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s time that the US and the international community recognize that Israel is staying on the Golan and the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel,” the prime minster said.
Without directly addressing the Golan issue, Pompeo affirmed US support of Israel: “With the threats of annihilation that Iran is making against Israel, we are committed to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense. With rocket threats from Gaza and threats from the north, we are proud to stand by your side.”
Pompeo explained that one of the main reasons for his visit to the region was to advance efforts begun last month at a gathering in Poland to build a regional alliance against Iran. “More than 60 countries met in Warsaw and there was a historic conference,” Pompeo said. “Arab leaders and Israel discussed terrorism and how to stop Iran’s campaign of destruction in the region.”
In gesture of appreciation, Netanyahu pointed out that “under President Trump, this partnership brought recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US Embassy to it. US Ambassador David Friedman does not have to travel through the traffic jams in Tel Aviv, which we are trying to relieve anyway,” the prime minster joked.
Also on Wednesday, together with Pompeo in Jerusalem, Netanyahu held a summit with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The prime minister noted that this is their sixth meeting and said it has become “one of the best regional collaborations in the world. We cooperate on everything, from fighting fires to energy.”
The three countries are planning to lay a gas pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea called the East-Med Pipeline, which will run from Israel, through Cyprus and Greece, and into Europe. “This will benefit our economies, provide stability and prosperity for our citizens and diversify energy sources in Europe,” Netanyahu said. Acknowledging the significance of the US Secretary of State participating in the summit, the prime minister went on to say that, “It symbolizes the fact that the US supports this regional effort.”
The proximity of meetings in Jerusalem and next week’s tête-à-tête in Washington to Israel April 9 election has caused some to accuse the Trump Administration of campaigning on behalf of Netanyahu. But the White House and State Department both denied showing partiality to any Israeli candidate.
PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L), President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades (2-L), and Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras (R), at the David’s CItadel Hotel in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)