Wednesday, March 14, 2018

With Anti-Iran, Pro-Israel Stances, Pompeo May Become Jerusalem's New Darling

With anti-Iran, pro-Israel stances, Pompeo may become Jerusalem's new darling

Preoccupied by the political crisis that threatened to bring down the ruling coalition, politicians in Jerusalem on Tuesday overwhelmingly ignored the news of the United States getting a new secretary of state.

There is no doubt, however, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most members of his government were delighted to learn that US President Donald Trump had fired the incumbent Rex Tillerson and tapped current CIA director Mike Pompeo for the job instead.

News of Pompeo’s appointment broke as Israel’s political establishment still teetered on the brink of snap elections, but even hours after that crisis had been resolved, neither Netanyahu’s office nor the Foreign Ministry or any other top official issued any comments or offered congratulations to America’s new top diplomat.
Only Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who had met Pompeo several times during his 14-month stint as the head of the world’s most well-known spy agency, took to Twitter to congratulate Pompeo and “thank him for his support of Israel.”

I wish to congratulate Director Pompeo on his appointment as the 70th secretary of state and thank him for his support of Israel and contribution to strengthening the security and intelligence ties between our two countries.
— ישראל כץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) March 13, 2018
Pompeo is a known hawk on Iran. His views on the 2015 Iran deal perfectly align with those of Trump — and Netanyahu. They all think the deal was a catastrophe and needs to be dramatically improved or thrown out altogether.

Pompeo indicated in late 2014, before the deal was signed, that he believed military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities would more effectively thwart Tehran’s quest for atomic bombs than diplomacy.

“Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, has become an even more emboldened and disruptive player in the Middle East,” he said at his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017.
Unsurprisingly, friends of the Islamic Republic on Tuesday rang the alarm bell over the appointment.
Pompeo in Foggy Bottom would increase the chances of “a new war in the Middle East,” the National Iranian American Council warned, calling him “one of the most ideological opponents of diplomacy with Iran.”
Other pro-Iranian groups issued similar warnings, while hawkish pro-Israel groups celebrated Pompeo’s belligerent stance toward the Islamic Republic.
“Throughout his time in the House of Representatives and as Director of the CIA he has proven to be a bulwark against the aggression of Iran, and a great friend to Israel,” Republican Jewish Coalition head Matt Brooks said.
When Trump assembled his administration in late 2016, Pompeo was singled out for praise by official sources in Jerusalem, who pointed to his strong record on Iran.
In December, when rumors that Pompeo could replace Tillerson first surfaced, hawkish Middle East analyst Tom Gross said he would become “the first properly pro-Israel US secretary of state in decades.”

Pompeo has a previous connection to the Jewish state. He came to Israel in 2015, when he was still a congressman from Kansas’s 4th District, receiving security briefings by the Israel Police and visiting the Western Wall.
“Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons are incredibly admirable and deeply appreciated,” he said after meeting the prime minister then.
He also praised Israelis’ “admirable restraint in the face of unspeakably cruel attacks,” referring to a spate of Palestinian terror attacks, many of them carried out with knives, which were at their peak at the time. The US needs to “stand with our ally Israel and put a stop to terrorism,” he said. “Ongoing attacks by the Palestinians serve only to distance the prospect of peace.

Of Pompeo, Trump said, “We’re always on the same wavelength.” He added: “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”
If delving into Pompeo and Tillerson means getting a read on what is and isn’t on Trump’s “wavelength,” what does the personnel shuffle say about the president’s views when it comes to what matters to Israel and American Jews?
Tillerson and Trump have tussled about a number of things — whether Russia is a reliable partner (Tillerson thought not, for Trump the jury is still out); whether to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear weapons capability (Tillerson recommended it; Trump at first knocked Tillerson down, but now seems ready to follow that path).
Notably, however, the reason Trump singled out in his impromptu White House lawn news conference was the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump said of Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently.”

President Donald Trump’s sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could sound the death knell for the Iran nuclear deal and further strain US ties with key European allies.

In explaining his decision to fire Tillerson, Trump said they had disagreed on many topics, but he specifically singled out one dispute: Whether or not to stay in the Iran pact.

“When you look at the Iran deal. I thought it was terrible. He thought it was OK,” Trump said. “I wanted to either break it or do something, he felt a little differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”
On May 12, in exactly two months, the US leader is to pronounce on the fate of the Iran deal. If sacking Tillerson is any indicator of Trump’s decision on the issue, it suggests the accord is in trouble.
For his part, Trump campaigned condemning the accord as the “worst deal ever” and in office he has given ear to hawkish advisers who say it does not do enough to halt Iran’s alleged quest for the bomb.
Tillerson and his cabinet ally Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have urged Trump to listen to his European allies and to preserve the deal intact, while seeking new measures to pressure Iran.
With Tillerson out of the picture — and replaced by CIA director and Iran hawk Mike Pompeo — Trump is all the more likely to follow his first instinct and blow up the entire accord.

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