US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited the Western Wall and took a tour of the tunnels there Sunday, as visits to the holy site – once off-limits for US senior officials visiting the country – are now a normal part of the itinerary for visiting US dignitaries.
US President Donald Trump ushered in this change of policy by visiting the site himself when he visited the country in May 2017.
Bolton, who arrived Saturday night, was accompanied by US ambassador David Friedman, and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. He received explanations at the site by Rabbi Mordechai Eliav, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
A video of Bolton at the Western Wall distributed by the US embassy shows him asking Eliav how often the notes placed in the crevices between the stones of the Wall are removed.
Bolton is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday evening. Hours before that meeting, the prime minister said that Israel is acting, and will continue to act, against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.
“We are acting against any actor that is undermining or trying to undermine Israel's security,” he said at the outset of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu said he will discuss with Bolton, whom he called an “old friend,” the situation in Syria and efforts to stop Iranian aggression in the region.
He said the assessment of the situation in Syria comes after US President Donald Trump’s decision last month to withdraw America's 2,000 troops from the country, and after a phone conversation he had on Friday regarding the situation in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bolton arrived on Saturday evening, and is scheduled to meet Netanyahu Sunday night. He was last in Israel in August, and this will be his second visit to the country since taking over as National Security Advisor in April. He will travel from Israel to Turkey for talks there expected as well to focus on the situation in Syria.
The US and Turkey have long been at odds over Syria, with Washington supporting the YPG Kurdish militia -- which Ankara views as an enemy - in the fight against Islamic State. It is widely feared that the US withdrawal of troops from Syria will leave the Kurds there vulnerable to Turkish military action.
Reuters reported Bolton saying on Sunday that the US will condition its Syria pullout on a Turkish assurance to safeguard Kurds and also wants measures to protect withdrawing US forces.
He also said that Trump "wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed."
In addition to Bolton’s visit to Jerusalem and Ankara to discuss US troop withdrawal, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will embark Tuesday on a regional tour to Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia , Oman and Kuwait to do the same.
Netanyahu met Pompeo last Tuesday in Brasilia on the sidelines of the inauguration of new President Jair Bolsonaro, and the US secretary of state staid that the withdrawal of the US troops in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel.”
Pompeo said “the counter-ISIS campaign continues, our efforts to counter Iranian aggression continue, and our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way” as it did before the decision to withdraw the US troops was made.
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