U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel on May 13 for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s new government on Iran’s activities in the Middle East, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other issues.
The discussions include Iran’s “destabilizing behavior in the region, activities in Syria, and developments with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said last week in a conference call with reporters.
Schenker said Pompeo is making this trip because he recognizes the United States and Israel have “much to learn from each other as we address current threats, whether those threats stem from a global pandemic or from Iran’s malign regional influence.”
The discussions about Iran will cover “all sorts of Iranian activities and the threats" posed to both Israeli and U.S. interests and personnel throughout the region, Schenker added.
The trip follows a flareup of violence on May 12 when a Palestinian rock-thrower killed an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank and police wounded a Palestinian who tried to stab security staff at a checkpoint, Israeli authorities said.
The separate events marred a relative lull in West Bank violence during the coronavirus outbreak.
Schenker said the United States continues to pursue a peace plan for the Middle East that U.S President Donald Trump laid out in January. The plan has been praised by Netanyahu but categorically rejected by the Palestinians.
Pompeo’s agenda includes no contact with any Palestinian officials, Schenker said, adding that the Palestinian leadership “has not spoken with U.S. officials in quite a long time” but Washington looks forward to a time when they will.
Schenker also declined to comment on reports that Israeli defense officials have said that at least some Iranian forces were leaving Syria.
But he said Iran has been persistent in its efforts to establish a presence on Israel’s border and to bring in advanced weaponry and assets targeting Israel, moving the equipment through Syria to Hezbollah.
The one-day trip comes ahead of the swearing-in of the new unity government, scheduled to take place on May 14. In addition to Netanyahu, Pompeo will meet with incoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
The coalition government framework, approved last week, calls for Netanyahu and Gantz to share the premiership and end a year-long political deadlock.
Officials admitted that international travel comes with risks but said they had taken “every precaution” to comply with the guidance of the State Department’s medical team and ensure the safety of all those who will be a part of the trip.
The secretary’s physician will be on hand, masks will be used, and everyone who comes in contact with Pompeo or the group traveling with him must be screened for symptoms, State Department physician William Walters said.
“The interactions will be obviously brief and professional, and then the secretary will head back to the plane and come back to the United States,” Walters said.