After Tillerson ousted, PM says he is ‘very impressed’ with replacement

Netanyahu confident he and secretary of state-designate Mike Pompeo, a known Iran hawk, will continue to work ‘very well together’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mike Pompeo, center, meeting with Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld and Benjamin Anthony, director of NGO Our Soldiers Speak, in Washington in November, 2015. (Benjamin Anthony/Our Soldiers Speak)
Mike Pompeo, center, meeting with Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld and Benjamin Anthony, director of NGO Our Soldiers Speak, in Washington in November, 2015. (Benjamin Anthony/Our Soldiers Speak)

In his first public comment on Mike Pompeo’s appointment as US Secretary of State, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he has been “very impressed” by the former congressman, who is currently heading the CIA.

“During my meetings with Pompeo, I was very impressed with his abilities and experience. I believe that in his role as secretary of state we will also work very well together,” the prime minister said in a brief statement.

The statement, issued more than 24 hours after US President Donald Trump tapped Pompeo for the job, did not mention his predecessor, Rex Tillerson.

On Tuesday, Trump announced on Twitter that he had fired Tillerson and that Pompeo, currently the head of the CIA, will replace him.

Pompeo’s appointment still needs to be approved by the Senate.

A few hours after Trump’s tweet, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who had met Pompeo several times during his 14-month stint as the head of the CIA, took to Twitter to congratulate Pompeo and “thank him for his support of Israel.”

Pompeo, a 54-year-old former congressman for Kansas’s 4th District, is considered very supportive of Israel. His hardline positions on Iran are nearly identical to those of Trump and Netanyahu, who argue that the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement between Tehran and six world powers need to be significantly improved or abrogated entirely.

Pompeo indicated in late 2014, before the deal was signed, that he believed military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities would more effectively thwart Tehran’s quest for atomic bombs than diplomacy.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo answers questions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, Thursday, April 13, 2017. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, has become an even more emboldened and disruptive player in the Middle East,” he said at his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017.

During his time at Foggy Bottom, Tillerson did not play a role in the administration’s Middle East policy, while Pompeo is known as a staunch supporter of the Jewish state and may seek to get involved in White House’s effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Tillerson’s decision to skip Israel during a trip to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon earlier this year was seen by some as a snub of the Jewish State.

In contrast to Tillerson, who had never been to Israel before he accompanied Trump during his May 2017 visit, Pompeo visited as a congressman in 2015, receiving security briefings and visiting the Western Wall.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaks during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, not seen, after their meeting, at Tahrir Palace, in Cairo, Egypt, February 12, 2018. (Khaled Elfiqi/Pool photo via AP)

“Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons are incredibly admirable and deeply appreciated,” he said after meeting the prime minister then.

He also praised Israelis’ “admirable restraint in the face of unspeakably cruel attacks,” referring to a spate of Palestinian terror attacks, many of them carried out with knives, which were at their peak at the time.

The US needs to “stand with our ally Israel and put a stop to terrorism,” he said. “Ongoing attacks by the Palestinians serve only to distance the prospect of peace.”

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