Hosting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday as President Donald Trump’s policy changes on Syria spark concern among Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Pompeo and Trump for their “consistent support for Israel” and hailed the strength of US-Israel ties. Commenting on the US-arranged ceasefire in Turkey’s offensive in Syria against Kurdish fighters, the prime minister said mildly that he hoped it would “turn out for the best.”
“Netanyahu and I had a productive meeting on efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s malign influence as well as regional developments and other issues related to Israel’s security,” Pompeo tweeted after the meeting at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.
In a statement to reporters, alongside Netanyahu, Pompeo also said the US-Israel relationship was “as strong as it has ever been.”
He said he and Netanyahu discussed “all the efforts we’ve made to push back against the threat not only to Israel but to the region and the world from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Added Pompeo: “We shared our ideas about how we can ensure Middle East stability together, and how we would further our efforts to jointly combat all the challenges that the world confronts here in the Middle East,” Pompeo told reporters with Netanyahu by his side.
Asked to respond to the US-arranged deal providing for what is supposed to be a pause in Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria, Netanyahu said: “We hope things will turn out for the best.”
Netanyahu said they discussed “the various challenges that we face together” in the region and efforts to strengthen US-Israel ties. “The Middle East is a sea of troubles and turbulence,” said the prime minister, but one thing that “stands out” is the “durability, stability and strength of the American-Israel alliance”. Added Netanyahu: “We talked about making it even stronger, and I want to thank you for consistent support.”
Earlier, Pompeo urged the United Nations Security Council to renew its arms embargo against Iran when it expires next year. “Because of the flawed Iran deal, the UN arms embargo on Iran will expire in one year. Countries like Russia and China will be able to sell Iran sophisticated weapons,” Pompeo tweeted prior to meeting with Netanyahu.
“The Iranian regime will be free to sell weapons to anyone. This will trigger a new arms race in the Middle East,” he wrote. “If you’re worried about Iran’s behavior now, imagine what Iran will do with advanced missiles, drones, tanks, and jets. The Security Council must renew the arms embargo,” he added.
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, National Security Council Director Meir Ben Shabbat, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US envoy to the Middle East Jim Jeffrey also attended the meeting, Netanyahu’s office said.
Later, Pompeo met with officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which works to combat anti-Semitism worldwide. The center said its representatives had shared with Pompeo the “fears of millions of Americans over the plight of the Kurdish minority in Syria.” They said Pompeo assured them the United States was not abandoning the Middle East.
Pompeo arrived in Israel after he and US Vice President Mike Pence negotiated a deal that is designed to see Turkey suspend its Syria offensive, but which drew criticism over what many saw as an abandonment of Washington’s Kurdish allies.
Israelis have been watching Trump’s decisions on Syria closely, concerned that their country too could be abandoned by its most important ally.
Beyond that, Israel has longstanding concerns over whether its enemy Iran will move to fill any vacuum in neighboring Syria, where Tehran has been supporting President Bashar al-Assad in an eight-year-old civil war.
Netanyahu has also had tense relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinians.
After the temporary ceasefire was announced, Trump heaped praise on Erdogan, calling him “a hell of a leader.”
Netanyahu has been careful not to be seen as criticizing Trump, who has been a key supporter, but last week issued a statement saying Israel strongly condemned Turkey’s “invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria.”
He also warned “against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.”
Trump triggered the week-long Turkish offensive against the Kurds by withdrawing US troops from northeastern Syria.
He has shifted US policy in favor of Israel since taking office, including by declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, but his recent moves related to Syria have led to concern.
Pompeo’s visit also comes with Netanyahu’s long tenure in power under threat after deadlocked September 17 elections.
The prime minister has so far been unable to form a unity government with his main opponent, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, and could also be indicted for corruption in the weeks ahead.