Iran, Syria to dominate Netanyahu-Merkel meeting

German chancellor arrives for annual government-to-government confab postponed by Berlin for 18 months because of displeasure over settlements policies.

Netanyahu welcoming Angela Merkel, October 4, 2018 (GPO)
Against the background of significant differences between Jerusalem and Berlin over Iran and the Palestinians, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived Wednesday for her fifth visit to Israel since taking office nearly 13 years ago.
Merkel, here with other ministers for the seventh government-to-government meeting since they were instituted in 2008, went directly from Ben-Gurion Airport to a private dinner meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem.
This government-to-government meeting, supposed to be an annual event to showcase the closeness of ties between the two countries, was postponed from May 2017 because of German displeasure at Israel's settlement policies and its position on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of the national Security Council, was to take part in Wednesday's meeting between the leaders, a signal that the discussions were likely to focus on Iran and the situation in Syria.
While Germany opposed the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal in May, it has supported Israel's demands to stop Iran's destabilizing efforts throughout the region and its ballistic missile program.
As Merkel was in Jerusalem, her foreign Minister Heiko Maas was in Washington with talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both Washington and Jerusalem want to see Germany curb its trade ties with Iran.
But Mass, after meeting with Pompeo, gave no indication that the two countries moved any closer on the Iranian nuclear issue, with Mass saying afterward that “We want to preserve the nuclear agreement with Iran.”
Merkel and Netanyahu last met in Berlin in June, and also on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.    They also speak frequently on the phone. Merkel, whom Netanyahu called a “true friend of Israel” after she was reelected last September, was last in Israel in 2014.
Both Israeli and German officials denied reports earlier in the day that Merkel  threatened to cancel her visit if Israel went ahead with the planned eviction of the Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar near Kfar Adumim. Merkel, along with the rest of the European Union, has come out sharply against the eviction.
One diplomatic official said that Israel decided to wait to implement the eviction order against the encampment until after her visit.
Greeted at the airport by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Merkel was accompanied by a number of German ministers and a business delegation. Israel and Germany did some $6.5 billion worth of trade in 2017, making Germany Israel’s third-largest trading partner in the EU after the United Kingdom and Belgium.
Merkel, who will be in the country for only 24 hours and will not be traveling to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority officials, will begin her day on Thursday with a visit to Yad Vashem. The German chancellor, who has said that Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust has made responsibility for Israel’s security part of her country’s “raison d’etre,” visited the site on two of her previous visits to Israel.
She will then go to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where she will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa, and hold a meeting there with students. On previous visits, she received honorary doctorates from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.
Merkel will also view along with Netanyahu an exhibit on Israeli innovation at the museum, followed by a roundtable with businesspeople.
Next up will be a working lunch at the President’s Residence with President Reuven Rivlin, followed by another private meeting with Netanyahu and a press conference.
Merkel and Netanyahu will then chair the government-to-government meeting with ministers from both countries.