WASHINGTON — US diplomatic chief Mike Pompeo travels next week to Israel, where he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Donald Trump’s administration in the midst of a heated re-election campaign.
The US secretary of state travels to the Middle East February 19-23, stopping first in Kuwait for talks before heading to Jerusalem and Beirut, his spokesman Robert Palladino said.
“The common thing in each of those places is helping those countries bolster their efforts to push back against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo told Fox News.
The Trump administration has repeatedly clashed with Tehran, also an arch foe of the Jewish state.
In Jerusalem, Pompeo “will reaffirm both privately and publicly during that visit our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense,” a senior State Department official said.
Earlier, Pompeo backed Israel’s “right to protect its citizens,” after the hit dozens of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rockets from the Palestinian enclave fired at Tel Aviv.
“Once again, Israeli citizens are under attack from terrorists in Gaza, armed and financed by their puppet masters in Tehran,” he tweeted.
“We stand by our ally. Israel has the right to protect its citizens.”
Pompeo’s visit to Jerusalem, which the United States now recognizes as the Jewish state’s capital — to the great dismay of the Palestinians and much of the international community — is especially an opportunity to meet with Netanyahu just before Israel’s April 9 legislative vote.
The visit is a welcome one for Netanyahu, facing corruption allegations and an uncertain battle to hold on to power.
Pompeo has no plans to meet Netanyahu’s rivals, who include former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid.
The diplomatic chief “meets with him as the head of government in Israel,” explained the senior official.
“We have major US interests with Israel. Those interests don’t go away. They don’t go into suspension because of the electoral cycle,” the official added.
In Lebanon, where Pompeo travels after Israel, one of the principal topics will be Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist group that works at Iran’s behest.
Hezbollah is nonetheless a member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, a Washington ally.