Liberman tells Pence he expects to see the US embassy in Jerusalem soon

According to a statement by the Defense Ministry, Mattis and Liberman discussed shared security issues between the two nations, and strategic issues in the Middle East including Iran, Syria.

March 8, 2017 03:43
4 minute read.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Pentagon. (Reuters)

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Pentagon. (Reuters)

On his first official visit to the US since President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary James Mattis, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser Raymond McMaster this week, emphasizing security cooperation amid a rapidly changing threat landscape.

Liberman said a “global axis of evil” extending from Iran to North Korea underscored the importance of America’s military work with Israel, as the two allies face burgeoning missile threats from two nations famously labeled by Trump’s last Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, as evil co-conspirators.

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In his meeting with Tillerson, Liberman called on the US to reevaluate America’s role on the UN Human Rights Council and with the UN’s refugee agency, UNRWA, both of which repeatedly target Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.

He called their approach to Israel “distorted,” according to the Defense Ministry, and said the US should consider eliminating funding to UNRWA and withdrawing completely from the council.

While Liberman told Tillerson that settlements are not an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, the secretary’s spokesman said in a briefing that continued settlement activity might indeed affect the environment needed for talks to commence. Trump said last month that he hopes to reboot peace talks in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Liberman met with Mattis at the Pentagon to discuss regional issues as well as Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Liberman said the global axis of evil currently extends from Iran to North Korea.
He reportedly expressed particular concern regarding Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s recognition of Hezbollah as part of the Lebanese military system, therefore transforming it into another branch of the terrorist group. Mattis and Liberman agreed on the need to act to strengthen moderate forces in the region and create an antiterrorism coalition.

Because of threats emanating from Tehran and across the Korean Peninsula, strategic cooperation between Israel and the US is “essential and critical not only for the security of Israel but for security and stability throughout the Middle East, and this has implications on global security,” he said, according to the ministry.

After meeting with Mattis, Liberman met with Pence at the White House on Tuesday night.

According to a White House statement, the vice president underscored the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to upholding Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

Discussing the recent missile tests by Iran, the two agreed on the need to “counter threats posed by Iran and its proxies as well as terrorist organizations,” discussing ways in which the two militaries could cooperate in countering such threats.

“This is another sign that we cannot rely on any agreements with Tehran,” Liberman said. “They keep reiterating their desire to wipe Israel off the map, and they are constantly working to spread terror around the world, and to disrupt order and stability in the Middle East."

“Israel is happy to see that US President Donald Trump understands the great danger of the ayatollah, and Israel’s need to fight them effectively,” he added.

Syria and other issues in the Middle East were also discussed.

According to a statement by the defense minister’s office, Liberman told Pence that he expects to see the US Embassy move from Tel Aviv to a new site in Jerusalem soon.

Liberman also thanked the vice president for his condemnation of recent antisemitic incidents in the United States, saying that his help in rebuilding a vandalized Jewish cemetery “proves more than anything else that the US has zero patience for antisemitism,” and that the American people and the American government know that “Jews are an important and integral part of the American nation.”

Following the meeting, Liberman said, “We have true friends in the White House. Vice President Pence mentioned again his commitment to improving the relationship between Israel and the US. The Americans, led by Donald Trump, are Israel’s true partners in dealing with the various challenges facing us, among them the Iran issue.”

Liberman is set to meet with Tillerson on Wednesday.

Liberman’s US visit occurs as the head of the US Army’s European Command, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, is in Israel. On Tuesday Scaparrotti toured the Arrow missile interception system at the Palmahim Air Force Base south of Rishon Lezion accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Air Defense commander Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovitch. He also toured the Gaza border area, where he was given a tour of a captured Hamas tunnel by Brig.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the commander of the Gaza Division.

Scaparrotti, who is in Israel for the second time, underscored the strong and enduring military partnership between Israel and the United States, saying that “it was built on trust developed over decades of close cooperation,” emphasizing the US commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

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