Netanyahu and Pompeo vow to counter Iranian aggression

Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Netanyahu and Pompeo vow to counter Iranian aggression

  • Netanyahu said Trump’s pressure on Israel’s main enemy Iran was already having an effect
  • Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria

JERUSALEM: Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to counter Iranian “aggression” as the two met in Jerusalem just weeks ahead of Israel’s elections.
Pompeo was on a regional tour focused largely on Iran, but the meeting and his warm words on Netanyahu’s leadership will likely be seen as support from US President Donald Trump’s administration amid the Israeli premier’s re-election fight.
Netanyahu, facing a stiff challenge from a centrist alliance in April 9 polls whilst under threat of indictment for corruption, will next week visit Washington, where he will meet twice with Trump.
Pompeo’s visit offered the right-wing premier an opportunity to burnish his security and diplomatic credentials — both key planks of his re-election campaign.
In comments after Pompeo’s arrival, Netanyahu said Trump’s pressure on Israel’s main enemy Iran was already having an effect, referring to his withdrawal from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions.
“We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world,” he said.
Pompeo noted a Middle East conference in Warsaw last month that included Arab nations as well as Israel, saying the discussions involved efforts “to stop Iran’s regional rampage” among other issues.
The US secretary of state also spoke of Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction.
“With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparallelled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic republic backs President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
“There is no limitation to our freedom of action, and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions as we do them,” Netanyahu said.
Pompeo’s stay in Jerusalem also included a four-way meeting with Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday night.
The discussions were to include plans to build a natural gas pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
Pompeo, who later travels to Lebanon, kicked off his regional tour in Kuwait where he met Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
He is pushing for a greater role for the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a US-sponsored Arab NATO-style bloc aimed at uniting Washington’s Arab allies against Tehran.
Pompeo said before his arrival that his trip to Israel had nothing to do with politics, saying the “relationship matters, no matter who the leaders are.”
No meetings with Netanyahu’s opponents are scheduled, and the secretary of state will not meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
Trump’s administration has taken a series of steps that the Palestinian Authority has deemed so hostile that it now refuses any contact with the US administration.
They included cutting most US aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
President Donald Trump’s decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israeli delighted Netanyahu’s government.
But it enraged Palestinians, who want to make the eastern, mainly Palestinian part of the city the capital of their future state.
Pompeo’s two-day visit to Jerusalem also includes a stop at the new US embassy, which was transferred from Tel Aviv on Trump’s orders last year.
A shift in semantics and policy has also marked the Trump term.
The US has ceased to refer to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-occupied” and instead calls the territory seized from Syria “controlled” by Israel — a change seen by some as a prelude to US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.


France urged to suspend boat delivery to Libya over migrant concerns

Updated 25 April 2019
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France urged to suspend boat delivery to Libya over migrant concerns

  • The demand was laid out in a legal challenge that was filed at the administrative court in Paris on Thursday morning

PARIS: Eight international NGOs including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded on Thursday that France suspend the delivery of boats to Libya’s coast guard on concerns they would be used to intercept migrants.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly had in February agreed to donate six boats to the Libyan navy, under which the coast guard operates, in a move she said was aimed at helping them “in the fight against illegal immigration.”

But the offer angered rights groups who said they would be used to block migrant boats seeking to reach Europe, forcing those on board to return to war-torn Libya.

The demand was laid out in a legal challenge that was filed at the administrative court in Paris on Thursday morning.

In it, the groups demand “the suspension of the decision” until the court decides whether or not the donation is legal. The court has 48 hours to make a decision.

The NGOs believe forcing people to return to Libya would expose them to “serious human rights violations.” Massimo Moratti, regional director for research at Amnesty International, said the pledge to deliver boats to the Libyan coast guard was “an unlawful and reckless decision.”

He said it was all the more dangerous at a time when fighting has intensified after Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital Tripoli earlier this month.

“Doing it now, as the armed conflict in Libya escalates, is even more callous and irresponsible,” Moratti said in a statement, warning the donation would make France “complicit” in trapping people inside the country.

The NGOs accused the coast guard of having a bad track record in respecting those in distress at sea, saying it should not be given the logistical means to step up such abuses.

The statement accused the coast guard of abuses including pushing those in distress back into the water, threatening them with weapons and firing toward them.

The six vessels, which are to be delivered in the coming weeks, are 12-meter, semi-rigid boats made by French specialist Sillinger.

Besides Amnesty and MSF, the legal petition was joined by France’s Human Rights League, immigrant support group GISTI, Lawyers Without Borders, migrant aid groups La Cimade and Migreurop and Italian research and aid group ASGI.