Pompeo, Netanyahu discuss Iran’s ‘malign influence’ after Soleimani strike
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Pompeo, Netanyahu discuss Iran’s ‘malign influence’ after Soleimani strike

PM and US secretary of state talk by phone for third time this week, with the latter hailing ‘Israel’s steadfast support in defeating terrorism’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a joint statement during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019/ (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a joint statement during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019/ (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Saturday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the American airstrike on top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

“Netanyahu and I just spoke and underscored the importance of countering Iran’s malign influence and threats to the region. I am always grateful for Israel’s steadfast support in defeating terrorism,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

He added: “The bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable.”

A statement from the US State Department said the two discussed the situation in Iraq, where Soleimani was killed, and Iran’s “continued provocations and threats to the region.”

There was no immediate readout from the Prime Minister’s Office on the phone call, the third in the past week between Netanyahu and Pompeo.

Iranians march with a banner bearing an illustration of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, against the killing of the top commander in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

According to Israeli television reports Friday, Pompeo is believed to have briefed Netanyahu ahead of time about US plans to kill Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Pompeo phoned Netanyahu on Wednesday night, ostensibly to thank him for Israel’s support in efforts to combat Iran and after the attack on the US embassy in Iraq.

Before departing for Athens on Thursday morning, Netanyahu alluded to “very, very dramatic things” happening in the region.

“We know that our region is stormy; very, very dramatic things are happening in it. We are alert and are monitoring the situation. We are in continuous contact with our great friend the US, including my conversation yesterday afternoon,” he told reporters at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Hours later, Soleimani and several top officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport, along with an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia commander.

It was not clear if other US allies were warned.

This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 3, 2020. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

Pompeo has been working the phones extensively since the targeted killing of Soleimani, which in State Department readouts of his calls with officials around the globe was described as “defensive action in response to imminent threats to American lives.”

After the news of the strike, Netanyahu on Friday praised the United States and President Donald Trump for killing Soleimani.

“Trump is worthy of full appreciation for acting with determination, strongly and swiftly,” he told reporters before departing Greece to return to Israel. “We stand fully by the United States in its just battle for security, peace and self-defense.”

The prime minister said “Israel has the right to defend itself. The US has the same right exactly. Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of innocent US citizens and many others. He was planning further attacks.”

Netanyahu cut short his visit to Greece amid concerns Iran could exact revenge on the Jewish state for the US overnight strike. He had been visiting the country to sign a major deal for a gas pipeline.

Protesters burn a US flag during a demonstration against the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleiman in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Israel has reportedly raised its security alert at missions worldwide, and the Israel Defense Forces has heightened its alert, amid Iranian revenge threats against the US and the “Zionist regime.”

The security cabinet is set to convene Sunday.

General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the southern province of Kerman, on Saturday threatened that some 35 US targets in the Middle East, “as well as Tel Aviv,” were within the reach of Tehran to avenge the killing of Soleimani.

Though Iran is seen as unlikely to retaliate by striking Israel, Channel 12 news reported Saturday that the military has upped its readiness on the borders in the case of a “spontaneous” response from Iran-backed terror groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

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