Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in Israel, denies it’s last-minute ‘election gift’

Meeting with Israeli, Kuwaiti and Lebanese leaders, Pompeo will put the threat posed by Hezbollah high on the agenda, a senior U.S. official said.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Israel this week for “critical” meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a three-country tour in the Middle East.

Pompeo will arrive in Jerusalem after attending the annual U.S.-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue event on Tuesday in Kuwait City, a senior State Department official told reporters last week, before moving on to Beirut.

Pompeo will meet with “a range of senior Israeli officials” to discuss “the challenges posed to the region, to Israel, to the United States by Iran and by Iranian proxies,” the official said. He will “reaffirm both privately and publicly during that visit our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense.”

Although the official stressed that the visit has nothing to do with Israel’s upcoming elections and is not an attempt to bolster Netanyahu among the electorate, it has been painted as such by Netanyahu’s opposition, who expect a final election gift from U.S. President Donald Trump to Netanyahu ahead of the April vote.

No political challengers to Netanyahu are included among the dignitaries scheduled to meet with Pompeo.

“We have critical, important bilateral, regional and transregional issues to discuss with the Government of Israel,” the official said, adding that the meetings “are squarely in the context of bilateral discussions on critical issues of importance to the U.S. that do not halt, stop, diminish in importance, go into a suspended animation state because of an electoral cycle.”

The Secretary himself told Fox and Friends on Friday that his purpose for going to each of the countries is to help them “bolster their efforts to push back against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

One of the main topics of discussion will be the threat posed by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist organization whose attack tunnels into Israel were recently discovered and destroyed by the IDF. It will also be high on the agenda in Beirut, said the official.

“Obviously, in those discussions the secretary will be discussing quite directly the challenges posed by Iran, its illicit activities, its threatening behaviors, Lebanese Hezbollah, their illicit activities and threatening behaviors, and how this all plays for a promising future—or against—for the people of Lebanon,” he explained.

While admitting the “fact” that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, the issue “is what Hezbollah does to Lebanon and the people of Lebanon through that participation,” the official added. It is a question that the Pompeo will be addressing “quite squarely in his meetings.”