With US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing next to him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the international community to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights just days before going to Washington, where he is expected to discuss the matter with US President Donald Trump.
(U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu deliver statements to the press at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 20 2019. (Credit: Ziv Sokolov/U
“Last week we uncovered efforts by Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, to build up a terror network on the Golan Heights – and you can all imagine what would happen if we were not in the Golan,” Netanyahu said after his meeting with Pompeo. “We would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”
For this reason and many more, he continued, “I think it is time for the international community to recognize Israel’s stay on the Golan – the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel.”
Pompeo did not respond, and made no reference to the issue during brief remarks in which he discussed the need to build regional alliances and roll back Iran, and the importance of combating antisemitism, which he said has even been seen in the halls of the US Capitol.
Pompeo arrived in the afternoon, from Kuwait, on the second leg of a three-stop Mideast tour, which will take him next to Lebanon. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades also arrived for a trilateral summit with Netanyahu, in which Pompeo took part.
These events are part of a blizzard of high-profile diplomatic events Netanyahu has planned in the remaining weeks before the elections. Next week, he will travel to Washington to meet Trump and speak at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, and the week after that he will host Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Jerusalem.
Iran’s ayatollahs have spent four decades spewing hatred, supporting terrorism and pursuing nuclear weapons to annihilate Israel – and must be rolled back, Pompeo said in his remarks.
“The ayatollah has said that the annihilation and destruction of Israel is his primary goal,” he added. “With such threats and the daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself.”
Pompeo said that his meetings in Jerusalem and participation in the trilateral summit are part of Washington’s efforts to build up regional alliances.
With the US peace plan expected to be presented after the April 9 elections, Pompeo said that Israel has no better friend than the US, and that Israelis “can be confident that President Trump will maintain this close bond.”
He said the Trump administration is also dedicated to combating antisemitism. The challenges in fighting antisemitism are “especially urgent, as the hot rhetoric of prejudice cloaks itself in the language of the academy, diplomacy, or public policy,” he said.
And, in an apparent reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks, he added: “Sadly, we in the US have seen antisemitic language uttered even in the great halls of our own Capitol. This should not be.”
Following their bilateral meeting, the two men joined Tsipras and Anastasiades for the sixth summit between Israel, Greece and Cyprus in three years, where the discussion centered around moving forward with the EastMed pipeline, which will eventually pump natural gas from the Israeli and Cypriot natural gas fields to Greece, and from there on to Italy and further into Europe.
The participation this time by Pompeo is believed to send a signal, both to Turkey and to Russia, that this relationship and the pipeline project are important to the US and have its blessings. Washington is increasingly wary of Ankara’s flexing its muscles toward Nicosia over gas exploration in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and about Russia’s advances in the eastern Mediterranean as a result of its presence in Syria.
Pompeo, in a joint press appearance with the other three leaders before their meetings, said: “Revisionist powers, like Iran and Russia and China, are all trying to take major footholds in the East and the West.
“We view the United States, Israel, Cyprus and Greece as great key partners in security and prosperity,” he said, adding that the goal is to improve the “security and prosperity even more broadly between our four nations.”
Netanyahu, in his comments before the meeting, praised this alliance as “one of the best regional associations in the world,” noting that there is cooperation across many fields, from energy to fire fighting.
Netanyahu said that Israel, Greece and Cyprus would welcome the involvement of other countries – not just the US – in this association.
And Greece’s Tsipras said that the pipeline can “help the security dialogue and the economic development of the region.”
Netanyahu, in addition to meeting Pompeo individually, also held individual meetings with Tsipras and Anastasiades.
The US presence in the summit is viewed widely as placing America’s stamp of approval on the plan and, by doing so, sending a message to Turkey not to try to impede the project. Turkey had hoped that Israel would send its natural gas to Europe through Turkey, the cheaper option.
Ankara has been placing obstacles in front of Cypriot efforts to explore in its EEZ, maintaining that Turkish Cypriots in the divided island have a right to the revenue from that gas. Turkey has also begun its own exploratory work in the zone.