‘You can always count on us’: UK top diplomat visits Israel after Gaza fighting

Dominic Raab tells Israeli leaders that Britain is committed to supporting ceasefire with Hamas, stresses ‘need to fight antisemitism’; also visits Ramallah for talks with Abbas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Jerusalem on May 26, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Jerusalem on May 26, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Visiting UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday met with Israeli leaders to discuss the 11-day conflict with the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip and the ceasefire that brought the fighting to an end.

In remarks before meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Raab said he was in the country “as a friend… that’s a great supporter of Israel.”

“We’re looking forward to talking about the bilateral relationship but also how we move things forward elsewhere,” Raab said. “You can always count on us.”

Netanyahu asked Raab to thank British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the United Kingdom’s “staunch, unwavering support of our right to self-defense during the recent operation,” which saw over 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli cities and towns from the coastal enclave, killing 13 in Israel.

“It’s much appreciated,” the premier said.

After the meeting, Raab tweeted that the two also discussed “the importance of a durable ceasefire in Gaza and the need to fight antisemitism.” The UK has seen a marked rise in antisemitic incidents amid the fighting in Gaza, sparking concerns among British Jews.

Earlier, Raab met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, tweeting afterward that “the UK is committed to supporting a durable ceasefire in Israel and Gaza and to working together to forge a lasting peace.”

He said he “recognized Israel’s right to self-defense” and discussed with Gantz the bilateral relationship between Israel and the UK.

During the meeting, Gantz updated Raab about Israeli plans to bolster the Palestinian Authority and to change policy regarding Gaza to achieve long-term quiet with the Palestinian enclave, according to Hebrew media reports. The two also discussed the release of two Israeli civilians detained in Gaza and the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas since 2014. Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

The meeting further covered ongoing talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran to revive a flagging 2015 nuclear agreement that aimed to limit Iran’s nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has unraveled since former US President Donald Trump pulled out in 2018 after which Iran steadily dropped its own commitments to the deal. Israel has strongly opposed the accord and welcomed Trump’s pullout.

Gantz stressed to Raab the importance of tight and effective monitoring of Iran’s nuclear sites and said Israel maintains the right to act in self-defense against any threat, a hint that the Jewish state could act alone in a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

Raab also met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem. Ashkenazi described Raab’s trip as a “visit of solidarity,” after the foreign ministers of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia visited Israel last week to show support as the fighting continued with Hamas.

After his meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Raab traveled to Ramallah, where he sat down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Raab said he and Abbas discussed the ceasefire and “reaffirmed UK support for a two-state solution as the only way to bring sustainable peace.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas (R) and Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meet at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 26, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

The British foreign secretary arrived in Israel late Tuesday for a one-day trip, a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his own visit, vowed to rebuild US relations with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem and giving millions in aid to help reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

The diplomatic flurry comes after Friday’s truce ended the heavy Hamas rocket fire at Israel and intense Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Welcoming the ceasefire, Raab said in a statement: “It is crucial that all sides now focus on ensuring it can last.”

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