Netanyahu touts peerless ties with Trump as he leaves on pre-election trip to DC
'Never been a relationship like this between PM, president'

Netanyahu touts peerless ties with Trump as he leaves on pre-election trip to DC

Iran, Golan Heights recognition to top agenda in two White House meetings sandwiching AIPAC appearance, two weeks before Israelis head to the polls

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the exceptionalism of US-Israel relations as he headed early Sunday morning to Washington, where he will meet with US President Donald Trump and deliver an address at AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference two weeks before Israeli elections.

Addressing reporters as he boarded his Boeing 777 en route to Washington, Netanyahu said his relationship with Trump surpassed his ties with any world leaders and with any bond between Israel and the US before.

“Never — never — has there been a relationship like this between an Israeli prime minister and an American president. It’s a very, very important asset for the State of Israel, and it is important that [this relationship] continues to serve us.”

Netanyahu traveled to Washington two weeks before Israeli voters will head to the polls on April 9, after a campaign that has seen Netanyahu tout his diplomatic successes and his close bond with Trump.

The US president enjoys high levels of support among Israelis and has been praised in Israel for recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital and pulling out of the 2015 international nuclear deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu strongly opposed.

A Likud party campaign poster depicting US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands is seen in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

On Thursday, Trump backed US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and his top diplomat accompanied the prime minister to the Western Wall, in moves widely expected to help Netanyahu at the polls.

The prime minister will drive the point home with his four-day Washington trip, which will feature two meetings with Trump. His main challenger, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, will also be in Washington for the AIPAC conference but was not invited to the White House.

Netanyahu said that Trump’s stated intention to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be on top of the agenda for his meetings with the president.

“I am going to talk with President Trump about the Golan, about his historic state, about Syria, about the ongoing pressure on Iran and additional sanctions on Iran, which they have added and will add, about security and intelligence cooperation that is unprecedented.”

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While Netanyahu is in town, Trump is expected to sign an official US declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Israeli TV reports said Friday that White House officials were currently drafting such a document.

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

On Thursday, Trump announced, in a tweet, that it was “time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” upending decades of US policy on the matter.

Netanyahu and his delegation are due in Washington early Sunday morning, but there are no events planned for that day, according to the itinerary of the trip sent to the traveling press.

On Monday, he will conduct a “working meeting” with Trump, which will focus on “the Iranian aggression, Iran’s attempts to establish military bases in Syria, and how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. “The two will also discuss strengthening security and intelligence cooperation.”

On Tuesday evening, Trump will host Netanyahu and his wife Sara for a second time, in the framework of a dinner. Though diplomatic protocol determines state dinners can only be given to heads of state, the dinner will still have many of the trappings of one, according to reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP / Nicholas Kamm)

Earlier that day, at 9:30 A.M. Netanyahu is set to address some 18,000 people at the America Israel Public Affair’s Committee annual policy conference, whose motto this year is “Connected for Good.”

Many Israeli politicians and more than dozen US administration officials are also slated to speak at the three-day conference. Most notably among them are Gantz, who will address the conference on Monday, and US Vice President Mike Pence.

After his speech, Netanyahu will hold a series of political meetings on Capitol Hill, including with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He will also meet Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and minority leader Kevin McCarthy.

Netanyahu will stay at the Blair’s House, the official White House guest residence, while in Washington.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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