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

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.


Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

Updated 10 min 3 sec ago

Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

  • Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals
  • The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign but is expected to raise pressure on him to step down

JERUSALEM: Israel’s attorney general on Thursday formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, throwing the country’s paralyzed political system into further disarray and threatening the long-time leader’s grip on power.
Capping a three-year investigation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals. It is the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has been charged with a crime.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign but is expected to raise pressure on him to step down.
Mandelblit was set to issue a statement later Thursday, as was Netanyahu, who has called the allegations part of a witch hunt, lashing out against the media, police, prosecutors and the justice system.
The most serious charges were connected to so-called “Case 4000,” in which Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave his friend, telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch, benefits worth over $250 million to his company Bezeq. In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, published favorable articles about Netanyahu and his family.
The relationship, it said, was “based on a mutual understanding that each of them had significant interests that the other side had the ability to advance.” It also accused Netanyahu of concealing the relationship by providing “partial and misleading information” about his connections with Elovitch.
Two close aides to Netanyahu turned state’s witness and testified against him in the case.
The indictment also said that Netanyahu’s gifts of champagne from billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer “turned into a sort of supply line.” It estimated the value of the gifts at nearly $200,000.
The indictment said Netanyahu assisted the Israeli Milchan, a Hollywood mogul, in extending his U.S. visa. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Packer received in return.