The Trump Administration stressed on Wednesday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hadn’t flown halfway around the world to talk about Israel’s possible annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of its biblical heartland.
Nor was addressing the (temporarily?) waning Iranian threat at the top of the agenda when Pompeo sat first with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then with his new coalition partner, Benny Gantz.
According to Channel 12 News, the reason Trump and Pompeo felt the need for some face time with Netanyahu, even amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, was their concern over growing Israel-China relations.
No Iran talk?
To be sure, Pompeo and Netanyahu did talk about Iran, its weakened position in neighboring Syria and its recent massive cyberattack on Israel’s water system.
But they could have just as easily done that over the phone. Israel and the US are very much on the same page concerning the Islamic Republic.
Face-to-face meetings like those held yesterday are only really necessary when the two sides hold divergent views on an issue. And with the risk of coronavirus infection still a very real concern, we expect our leaders to avoid frivolous, non-essential gatherings, just as they demand of us.
The Chinese menace
The Trump Administration is presently engaged in a new war of words with China. The US President has accused the Asian giant in no uncertain terms of concealing the coronavirus outbreak until it was too late. There are even renewed charges that the COVID-19 strain was cultivated at and released from (accidentally or otherwise) a Chinese laboratory.
Trump is presently making very public gestures bolstering the historical and religious Jewish claims to the Holy Land the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Balfour Declaration. Needless to say, he doesn’t then want to find Israel cozying up to America’s greatest rival during a time of mounting tension.
“The Secretary doesn’t have a problem with people having relationships with China, but the corona crisis sort of highlights the dangers of dealing with states that are not transparent, that don’t have fair trade practices,” said US officials cited by the Israeli media.
“The Chinese are not a reliable partner,” they added, as they cautioned Israel against allowing too much Chinese investment in the Jewish state. A great many of Israel’s largest corporations are already partly owned by Chinese investors. The threat there, said the Americans, is that “there is no such thing as a privately owned, independent company in China.”
At the end of the day, the US officials said that the relationship between America and Israel is strong and mature, enabling difficult discussions like this. “I think the message got through,” said one American diplomat.