Trump foreign policy advisers said to have met Netanyahu

Source says delegation aimed to understand complex political situation, also met with Opposition Leader Lapid, brought no message to Israeli officials from Republican candidate

Former US president Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 20, 2024. (Steven Hirsch/ New York Post via AP, Pool)
Former US president Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 20, 2024. (Steven Hirsch/ New York Post via AP, Pool)

Three former US foreign policy officials in Donald Trump’s administration met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other public figures in Israel on Monday, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The delegation was made up of Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, as well as former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta and former ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen, said the person, who requested anonymity, as the trip’s itinerary was not public.

In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and several other Israeli officials, the person said.

Among the main goals of the trip was to obtain a better understanding of Israel’s complex domestic political situation, said the person familiar with the visit. Netanyahu’s coalition is beset by internal disagreements, with many Israelis blaming his government for failing to prevent the October 7 Hamas attack.

It was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strain between Israel and the Biden administration about Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza.

On Monday, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor in The Hague said he had requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

Israel and Palestinian leaders have dismissed allegations of war crimes, and representatives of both sides criticized the action. It was not immediately clear if the Monday meeting occurred before or after that announcement.

Then-US National Security adviser Robert O’Brien speaks at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Philippines, November 23, 2020. (Eloisa Lopez/Pool Photo via AP)

It was unclear what the delegation of Trump allies discussed with the Israelis. The person said the group was not acting at the former president’s request and had no message to deliver to Israeli officials. But all serve as informal advisers to Trump, and the former president will likely receive a readout of the meetings, the person added.

Trump’s views

Trump has occasionally criticized Israel over its operation in Gaza, and he has faulted Netanyahu for failing to prevent the October 7 attack. But Trump, the Republican candidate for president, consistently portrays himself as a more reliable ally to Israel than US President Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in the November 5 election.

The White House declined to comment when asked about the meeting. Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Then-US ambassador John Rakolta, middle, arrives for the USA Pavilion handover ceremony at the Dubai Expo 2020, United Arab Emirates, November 18, 2020. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

During Trump’s 2017-2021 White House term, the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a long-held conservative goal that delighted Israelis and infuriated Palestinians.

While Trump and Netanyahu worked together closely during the former’s presidency, Trump responded with fury after the prime minister congratulated then-president-elect Biden for winning the 2020 US election while Trump was still trying to overturn the results. In interviews for a book about his Middle East peace efforts, Trump, according to its author, used an expletive to describe the prime minister and accused Netanyahu of disloyalty.

Rakolta, the former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, played a major role in the Abraham Accords, agreements signed during the Trump years, which normalized bilateral relations between Israel and both Bahrain and the UAE.

O’Brien has emerged as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, and he will likely play a significant role in a second Trump term, should he return to office, according to several people with knowledge of their relationship.

Foreign officials have regularly talked with Trump or his advisers in recent months to get a better sense of his likely policies should he return to the White House.

Foreign leaders on official visits typically meet with opposition leaders. British Foreign Minister David Cameron met Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April, where they discussed the war in Ukraine and the future of NATO.

Hard-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met Trump at Mar-a-Lago in March. Last month, the former president received Polish President Andrzej Duda at Trump Tower in New York.

The 1799 Logan Act permits Americans outside the government to meet foreign officials, but it also limits their ability to negotiate US disputes with foreign governments.

Then US-president Donald Trump (left) welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

On Sunday, Netanyahu met with Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss the war. The White House said Sullivan proposed measures to ensure more aid was able to flow into the Palestinian enclave.

The Biden administration, while initially steadfast in its support, has expressed misgivings with elements of Israel’s war strategy in recent months. This month Biden paused shipments of thousands of bombs to Israel in response to Israel’s decision to expand its assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

That pause prompted Trump to accuse Biden of abandoning an ally. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a law requiring the bombs be delivered.

During the Trump delegation’s visit to Israel, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash. That event could set off a succession battle in Iran, a geopolitical foe of Israel and the US. It was unclear whether the Trump advisers discussed Raisi’s death with Israeli officials.

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