Pompeo seeks to reassure Israel amid Syria turmoil

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stand during statements to the press during a meeting at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 October 2019

Pompeo seeks to reassure Israel amid Syria turmoil

  • Pompeo said he discussed ways to push back against Iran with Netanyahu
  • Netanyahu thanked America for its “consistent support” and said they discussed ways of making the alliance “even stronger”

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israel’s prime minister on Friday to reaffirm the countries’ close ties at a time when many in Israel fear the Trump administration intends to cut and run from the Middle East.
The meeting came a day after a US delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo reached an agreement with Turkey to halt its week-old offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkey invaded after the US moved its troops aside, abandoning the Syrian Kurdish fighters America had partnered with against the Daesh group. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to an insurgency inside its borders.
Israel has strongly condemned the offensive, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of “ethnic cleansing.” Others have expressed fear that President Donald Trump’s stated desire to get out of “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East makes him an unreliable ally as Israel faces threats from Iran.
In brief remarks after their meeting, Pompeo said “the remarkable, close relationship between our two countries is as strong as it has ever been.” He said they discussed ways to push back against Iran, and “efforts to jointly combat all the challenges that the world confronts here in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu thanked America for its “consistent support” and said they discussed ways of making the alliance “even stronger.”
When asked about the agreement to halt the fighting in northern Syria, Netanyahu said “we hope things will turn out for the best,” without elaborating. Pompeo declined to comment.
Later, Pompeo met with officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which works to combat anti-Semitism worldwide. The center said its representatives had shared with Pompeo the “fears of millions of Americans over the plight of the Kurdish minority in Syria.” They said Pompeo assured them the United States was not abandoning the Middle East.
Netanyahu has portrayed his close relationship with Trump as a godsend for Israel, pointing to the American president’s decisions to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But Israelis have expressed alarm over a series of recent decisions, culminating in the Syria pullout, that they fear portend an American withdrawal from the region. 
Rapid advances by Turkish forces this week forced the Kurds to turn to Syrian President Bashar Assad for protection, and Syrian and Russian forces have already fanned out across the vast swathes of northeastern Syria held by the Kurds. That could allow Iran, a close ally of Assad, to further expand its presence, which already stretches across the Middle East to Israel’s northern frontier.
The questions about the US alliance come at a sensitive time for Netanyahu, who made his relations with Trump and other top world leaders a major plank of his campaign ahead of last month’s elections. The vote left him deadlocked with his main opponent, with no clear path for either to form a government.

Israeli attack aimed to get Netanyahu out of the jam

Updated 2 min 37 sec ago

Israeli attack aimed to get Netanyahu out of the jam

AMMAN: Pundits and politicians appear to agree that the assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu Al-Atta and his wife in Gaza, as well as the failed attack in Damascus against Akram Ajoury was committed to assuage domestic Israeli political tensions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing a corruption indictment and possibly about to lose power to opponent Benny Gantz, apparently acted in his own self-interest, disrupting political talks and potentially destabilizing Gantz’ support from the Arab Joint List.

Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center, told Arab News the Israeli attack in Gaza had all but ended the possibility of the Joint List supporting any Israeli government.

“Before the attack, 10 out of the 13 elected members of the Knesset were on board with the idea of supporting, externally, a minority government. Now the number of those supporting this has been reduced, as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality are opposed to supporting any government,” he said.

Gantz, who apparently was briefed before the attack, has come out publicly in support of Israel’s actions, which killed over 20 Palestinians including women and children.

Michel Oun, Middle East professor at Haifa University, told Arab News that a major reason behind the Israeli attack was internal politics. “If we can use football terms, we were in the last minutes of the game, time was running out on Netanyahu, he had to do something,” Oun said, adding that the attack had ended any possibility of an Israeli minority government with the Arab Joint List supporting it.

“I was always skeptical about this issue even before the attacks on Gaza, because of the paternalistic and racist way Israelis were talking about it in which the very idea of having Arab members of the Knesset supporting a government, even from the outside, was seen as unacceptable and treasonous.”

Merav Michaeli, a member of the Knesset from the Israeli Labor Party, told Arab News that the way Netanyahu used the attack in Gaza was suspicious. 

“I saw the chief of staff and head of the secret service standing and talking about the necessity and opportunity that was provided to them. I believe that the Israeli civil service officials are telling the truth, although the attack was greatly exploited and abused politically. The very fact that Netanyahu had to bring these military officials to the press conference shows that half of Israel does not trust him and he had to have them confirm their position,” she said.

Pundits had opposing views as to who would benefit from the stretch of the cycle of attacks with Gaza. “Regardless of politics I hope that the violence ends as soon as possible,” Michaeli told Arab News.