What’s happening: US Secretary of State Pompeo arrived in Israel this morning, where he has two scheduled meetings in Jerusalem. He will first meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz along with designated Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
- According the US government they will discuss their “efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as security issues related to Iran’s malign influence in the region”.
- At the start of their meeting this morning, Netanyahu said the first issue on the agenda is coronavirus. “The second thing is, there is something else plaguing our region, unremitting Iranian aggression and terror.” Thirdly, Netanyahu said, “Now we’re about to form a national unity government, tomorrow. This is an opportunity to promote peace and security based on the understanding that I reached with President [Donald] Trump in my last visit to Washington in January.”
- A potential forth issue on the agenda is Chinese investment in large infrastructure projects inside Israel. A US official told Kan Radio News that Pompeo would act to significantly reduce the scope of Chinese investments in Israel.
- “You’re a great partner — you share information, unlike some other countries that try and obfuscate and hide information,” Pompeo said to Netanyahu, alluding to China. “We’ll talk about that country, too.”
Context: This is the first diplomatic visit to Israel since the start of coronavirus. It is also Pompeo’s first trip abroad since a surprise visit to Afghanistan in March. This is Pompeo’s fourth trip to Israel since taking office in 2018. He last visited in October 2019 to discuss efforts to push Iranian proxy militias out of Syria.
- The US State Department released a detailed fact-sheet yesterday noting: “The United States stands with Israel in countering Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region. We cooperate closely with Israel to counter Iran and work to resolve regional crises in a manner consistent with US and Israeli national security interests. The United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself and is a partner to Israel in the face of Iran’s continued support for designated terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.”
- “The United States is committed to Israel’s security and supporting its right to defend itself. The level of US support to Israel is unparalleled. Under our 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, we provide $3.8 billion annually in security assistance to Israel.”
- “The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate peace, and we will do what we can to help this cause. President Trump’s Vision for Peace is detailed, realistic, implementable, and meets the core requirements of both the Israeli and Palestinian people. This Vision is just the first step and provides the basis for historic progress toward peace. The United States hopes this Vision will lead to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It also notes US-Israel “bilateral trade of close to $50 billion in goods and services annually”.
- According to the coalition agreement, Netanyahu can bring forward legislation to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley on 1 July. The agreement says that any step must be coordinated with the US while maintaining regional stability and exiting peace agreements.
- With concern over annexation, France is encouraging the European Union to consider threatening Israel with sanctions. Earlier this week European diplomats told Reuters that Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland were willing to consider suspending economic agreements with Israel.
- Pompeo will not stay in Israel overnight due to coronavirus, and his team is taking precautions, including social distancing, to allow the visit to proceed without a need for them to enter quarantine. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has excused himself from today’s meetings as he was experiencing “mild upper-respiratory symptoms”. He has tested negative for coronavirus, but will not meet with Pompeo as a cautionary step.
Looking ahead: Ahead of 1 July and any announcement on annexation, a joint US-Israel team is expected to complete its mapping process and make their recommendations on Israel’s new boundary line. A senior US administration official told Channel 13 News last night that 1 July “isn’t a sacred date” from the US perspective. Moreover, “The Israelis’ timetable isn’t firm from our perspective and this isn’t do-or-die for us,” said the senior US official.
- According to the report, the senior US official also had a warning for the Palestinians, saying, “If the Palestinians continue to sit on the sidelines and don’t come to negotiate, that is going to have negative repercussions from their perspective and will make it easier for us to make decisions vis-à-vis Israeli annexation.”
- The arms embargo on Iran expires in October. In an interview in Israel Hayom yesterday, Pompeo said, “In October the Iranians will have the ability to build their conventional capabilities in ways that will allow them even more easily to commit terrorism in the world and to blackmail countries around the world and, by so doing, to create more room for the Iranians to continue to carry out their plan that ultimately will increase the risk that they will have nuclear weapons.” Pompeo is hoping to extend the arms embargo on Iran or reimpose sanctions through the UN.