Pompeo accepted almost all Netanyahu’s requests, senior Israeli official says

PM said to exit meeting feeling he has influence over US policy; countries cooperating on Syria withdrawal; lone issue yet to be worked out is Israeli jets deal with Croatia

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had almost all of his requests accepted during his meeting in Brazil with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Wednesday.

Netanyahu met Pompeo in the capital Brasilia, where the Israeli premier was on an official visit, and both men later attended the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Pompeo assured Netanyahu during the meeting that the planned withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria will not alter Washington’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

Netanyahu left the meeting feeling that Israel has influence over US policy in certain areas, the Israeli official told reporters Wednesday, adding that Israel and the United States were working on “various ideas regarding Syria that will help Israel.”

Israeli officials are concerned that the planned withdrawal of the 2,000 US military personnel from Syria will create a military vacuum enabling Iran to increase its foothold in the country, where it is supporting the Syrian regime in ending the country’s civil war. The US forces have been assisting local militias in defeating the Islamic State terror group in the country.

“Israel received almost everything it wanted” during the Tuesday meeting in Brasilia, the official said. “Israel had 8 requests — 7 of which were accepted.”

Brazil’s newly sworn-in President Jair Bolsonaro (C) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), during his inauguration ceremony, at the National Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

The lone issue still to be worked out between the parties, according to the official, is Israel’s sale of aging F-16 fighter jets to Croatia.

Quoting unnamed Israeli officials, Channel 10 news reported last month the Trump administration was angry Israel added advanced Israeli-made electronic systems to the F-16s as part of efforts to convince Croatia to buy the planes. The officials told the network the US believes Israel unfairly profited through its actions, as the F-16s are American-made and were not supposed to be sold to a third party without its approval.

US President Donald Trump had stunned allies — and prompted the resignation of his respected defense secretary, Jim Mattis — by abruptly announcing on December 19 that the Islamic State jihadists were defeated and that US troops in Syria were ready to leave.

A senior Israeli official said Monday that Netanyahu has asked Trump to stagger the US withdrawal over a lengthy period of time, rather than carry out an immediate pullout.

The New York Times then reported that Trump has agreed to allow the US military to gradually pull troops out of Syria over a period of about four months, rather than the rapid withdrawal he had initially indicated when announcing the measure.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security, and of attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Honduras embassy move

The senior official also said that Netanyahu hopes that Honduras will follow the US and Guatemala in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the next two months, after meeting with President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Israel will in turn open an embassy in Tegucigalpa, the official added. There currently exists only an Israeli consulate in Honduras.

Honduras has asked Israel to assist it in developing its relations with the US and therefore, a three-way meeting was held between Pompeo, Netanyahu and Hernandez in Brasilia.

Tegucigalpa has been seeking to temper tensions with the Trump administration over Honduran migrants attempting to migrate illegally into the US.

“Israel wants to help South American countries solve some of their problems in the fields of water as well as the economic and security sectors, and the US has an interest in that cause as well,” the official said.

Israel and Honduras said Tuesday that they had agreed to push ahead with a plan to open embassies in Jerusalem and Tegucigalpa, in a joint statement released by the US State Department after the tripartite meeting.

Benjamin Netanyahu, third right, and Juan Orlando Hernandez, third left, meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 1, 2019. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The countries “agreed to pursue a plan of action, which includes meetings in their three respective capitals, to advance the process of the decision to open embassies in both Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem,” a joint statement from the three countries released by the US State Department read.

Tegucigalpa has reportedly expressed interest in moving the country’s embassy to Jerusalem in exchange for Israel upgrading its consulate in Honduras to an embassy and getting Israeli know-how on cyber security, water and agriculture tech and law enforcement.

Last year, Honduras was one of only eight countries that opposed a UN General Assembly resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, along with Guatemala, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Netanyahu has made a major push for other countries to follow the US in moving their embassies to Jerusalem, with moderate success. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he would consider the issue, said last month that his government would only recognize the western half of the city as Israel’s capital and leave its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Moldova’s president recently said his country would “very seriously consider” moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to Jewish interlocutors who met with him.

Netanyahu told Brazilian Jewish leaders on Sunday that Bolsonaro informed him that he will relocate the Latin American country’s mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Countries that have expressed interest in moving embassies have been met with denunciations by Arab and Muslim leaders and threats to downgrade ties or harm trade relations.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, but Palestinians see the eastern half of the city as the capital of their future state. Most of the international community maintain that Jerusalem’s status should be determined through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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