LISBON, Portugal — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called for increased action against Iran, indicating that the recent unrest in the Islamic Republic offers an opportunity to topple the regime.
“Iran’s aggression is growing, but its empire is tottering. And I say: let’s make it totter even further,” he said at the beginning of a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak, even today, in the region,” he added. “They’re trying to have staging grounds against us and the region from Iran itself, from Iraq, from Syria, from Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen. And we are actively engaged in countering that aggression.”
However, he refused to comment on reports in the Arab media about a Wednesday airstrike on an Iranian-controlled weapons storehouse in eastern Syria.
“I never talk about that,” he responded to a reporter’s question.
Netanyahu also thanked Pompeo for his statement last month saying that Israeli settlements are not necessarily illegal under international law.
“I think that contrary to every common spin, this actually advances peace, because peace has to be based on truth, and not on lies,” he said. “And we are committed to advancing security, prosperity and peace in our region, and I believe this conversation, and these and many others subjects will do exactly that.”
Pompeo, in his remarks, focused on the recent riots in Iran, during which the regime killed scores of protesters demonstrating against increasing fuel prices.
“These are people seeking freedom [and a] reasonable way to live. And they recognize the threat that is posed by kleptocrats that are running the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
“So we talked to our European partners about that, how we can together ensure that we do everything that we can to create opportunity for these people who simply want freedom and a chance to live a normal life.”
At the center of Netanyahu’s two-day trip to Lisbon is a planned working dinner with Pompeo, a pro-Israel stalwart and key architect of Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which includes tough economic sanctions.
The prime minister is also slated to meet with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva.
Speaking to reporters before taking off earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the conversation with Pompeo would “focus first of all on Iran, and two additional matters: the defense pact with the US that I seek to advance, and also a future American recognition of Israel applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. These are very important issues, we are dealing with them all the time. And there are also other issues, that I will not detail now.”
Talks are expected to revolve around the Iranian regime’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as well as its increasing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, including its recent decision to resume enrichment of uranium at the Fordo nuclear facility.
The prime minister also repeated his harsh criticism of European countries who recently joined the INSTEX financial mechanism, which is meant to allow Iran to continue to sell its oil despite the punishing US sanctions.
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” Netanyahu said angrily. “While people are risking their lives and dying on the streets of Tehran, they’re giving sustenance and support to this tyrannical regime. The tyrants of Tehran should not be supported now; they should be pressured.”
Pompeo and Netanyahu last met in October in Jerusalem. According to reports, Netanyahu had originally planned to meet Pompeo in London, where world leaders, including US President Donald Trump are gathering for a NATO summit this week.
Netanyahu spoke with Trump over the phone on Sunday. According to the White House, the two discussed Iran and other unspecified bilateral issues.
Netanyahu later said that the proposed defense alliance and annexation of the Jordan Valley were discussed as well in the call, which he termed “a very important conversation for the security of Israel.”
“These are things that we could only dream about, but we have the possibility of implementing them,” he said.
On November 18, Pompeo appeared to pave the way for an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, and possibly other parts of the West Bank, when he declared that the administration would no longer consider Israeli settlements as necessarily illegal under international law.
“We think the decision that was made that permits the possibility of legal settlements, that they are not illegal per se, is both the correct one and the one that is in the best interest of the security situation in Israel, as well as the situation between Israel and the Palestinian people,” Pompeo told the Israel Hayom newspaper last week.
After leaving Portugal, Pompeo is slated to travel to Morocco, where he is expected to push normalization with Israel with King Mohammed IV in Rabat.
“Morocco plays a great role across the region as an important partner in promoting tolerance (and) has these quiet ties and relationship with Israel as well,” a State Department official said last week.
Morocco is one of several Arab states in the Middle East being pushed by the US to sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel, as a step toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state, according to a Tuesday report by Axios.
The trip marks the first visit to Portugal of an Israeli prime minister since 2000, when Ehud Barak went to Lisbon to meet then-US president Bill Clinton.
Netanyahu himself last traveled to Lisbon in December 1996, during his first term as prime minister, when he attended a European Council for Security and Cooperation summit there.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.