US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in an interview that President Donald Trump may have been sent by God to save the Jewish people, and said he was “confident that the Lord is at work here.”
In a sit-down with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Thursday, interviewer Chris Mitchell noted that Israel was celebrating the Purim holiday.
“Jews worldwide and here in Jerusalem are talking about the fact that Esther 2,500 years ago saved the Jewish people with God’s help from Haman,” he said, mentioning the Persian villain of the megillah.
“And now 2,500 years later there’s a new Haman here in the Middle East that wants to eradicate the Jewish people just like Haman did: the state of Iran,” Mitchell went on. “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”
Pompeo replied that “as a Christian I certainly believe that’s possible.” He then went on to describe his visit to the Western Wall earlier in the day, during which he toured the ancient Western Wall Tunnels.
“We could see 3,000 years ago, and 2,000 years ago… see the remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state remains,” he said. “I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”
Pompeo was in Israel to discuss regional threats — Iran in particular.
Trump has ramped up the pressure on Iran since taking office, quitting the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last May and renewing American sanctions, which had been eased in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.
On Friday the administration hit Iran with new sanctions, targeting 31 Iranian scientists, technicians and companies involved in the country’s nuclear and missile research and development programs.
On his visit to the Wall Thursday, Pompeo was joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first time that Washington’s top diplomat has visited Jerusalem’s contested Old City accompanied by a senior Israeli official. The Western Wall, a retaining wall of the Biblical Temple compound, is beneath the Temple Mount and is the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray.
The visit could be seen as tacit American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested Jewish holy site and a shift in US policy. The two men were also accompanied by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
After signing a guestbook, the three men stepped up to the wall, placing their right hands on the ancient stones before bowing their heads in prayer.
Netanyahu and Pompeo placed notes into the wall, a longstanding tradition.
Pompeo and Netanyahu then toured the Wall and the adjacent tunnels, which are located underneath the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. At a visitors center, the two men viewed a virtual reality recreation of the Jewish temple that once stood on the Temple Mount.
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The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and so visiting foreign dignitaries generally refrain from going there in the company of Israeli officials.
Those who do want to tour the holy site usually do so in a private capacity, though in recent months an increasing number of foreign leaders have defied standard protocol and allowed Israeli diplomats to join them at the wall.
Pompeo said he thought it was important to visit the Western Wall with the Israeli leader as a show of support for Israel.
“I think it’s symbolic that a senior American official go there with a prime minister of Israel,” he said ahead of the visit. “It’s a place that’s important to many faiths and I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be very special.”
When US President Donald Trump visited the site in May of 2017 but did so without official Israeli accompaniment. Later that year, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but stressed that he was not taking a position on the “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.”
In January of 2018, US Vice President Mike Pence also briefly visited the wall. Like Trump, he was accompanied by employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation but without Israeli diplomatic officials.
Since his inauguration, Trump has been well received in Israel, where he has won plaudits for recognizing Jerusalem as the city’s capital and pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu strongly opposed.
While in Israel, Pompeo frequently referenced the US and Israel’s shared commitment to countering Iran.
Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.