Pence calls Trump the greatest defender Israel ever had in White House
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Pence calls Trump the greatest defender Israel ever had in White House

At event marking Israel’s 70th birthday, vice president says boss has done more for Jewish state in one year than any other president in history

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Mike Pence speaking at an Israeli embassy event on May 14, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)
Mike Pence speaking at an Israeli embassy event on May 14, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence praised Donald Trump as greatest presidential backer in Israel’s history Monday, and said peace with the Palestinians was still within reach, despite violence flaring as the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

In his brief remarks at an Israeli embassy event celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary of its founding, Pence said the president had done more to bring the US and Israel “closer together in a year than any president in the past 70 years.”

Trump is “the greatest defender the Jewish state has ever had sitting in the Oval Office,” he said.

His comments came after the US inaugurated its new embassy in Jerusalem earlier Monday, making good on a Trump campaign promise and fulfilling Israel’s longstanding wish for international recognition of  Jerusalem as its capital.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House on March 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

The administration has defended the move as helping bring Israeli-Palestinian peace closer, but miles away on the Gaza border, violent protests against the move led by the Hamas terror group left 58 Palestinians dead and thousands more wounded, underlining the difficulties ahead as the White House tries to pursue a peace deal.

The Palestinians and representatives of several countries say the embassy move has removed the US from its role as a mediator in the conflict.

Pence eschewed any mention of violence in the coastal enclave during his remarks and touted the administration’s commitment to a peace deal.

Palestinians take part in clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

The White House is “prepared to support a peace agreement in any way we can,” he said.

“We believe that peace is possible… And while any peace will undoubtedly require compromise, under President Trump the United States will never compromise the safety and security of the State of Israel,” Pence said at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in the US capital.

Speaking before him, Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer described the embassy move as  “one small step for peace and one large leap for truth.”

Pence also sought to assure the audience that the Trump administration would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal last week.

“As we demonstrated last week, the United States is once again standing up to the leading state sponsor of terrorism when we withdrew from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” Pence said. “We will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

He pointed to a confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria last week as proof the pact, which curbed enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief, needed to be dismantled.

“Iran’s unprecedented missile attacks on Israel last week only confirmed the president’s decision, and this dangerous act of aggression only strengthened our resolve,” Pence said.

On Thursday, Iranian forces stationed in Syria launched 20 missiles at Israel, drawing a barrage of airstrikes meant to push the Islamic Republic’s expeditionary forces out of the civil war-torn country.

As with the embassy opening, the guest list appeared to be highly partisan, with the audience almost exclusively Republican.

A Times of Israel correspondent said no currently elected Democratic lawmakers could be seen in attendance, although they are always invited to the annual event and have routinely shown up in previous years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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