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Israel expects Pompeo to take action on Iran

Mr Pompeo — a former congressman and member of a House of Representatives intelligence committee — has considerably more foreign policy experience than his predecessor

    Strategic overhaul: Donald Trump's choice for CIA chief, Mike Pompeo
    Strategic overhaul: Donald Trump's choice for CIA chief, Mike Pompeo

    Will the coming of Mike Pompeo at the State Department be a game changer as far as Israel is concerned? There is every reason to believe it will.

    Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson arrived in office a year ago with no political or foreign policy experience and no real idea of how the United States should conduct itself in the world.

    Mr Pompeo — a former congressman and member of a House of Representatives intelligence committee — has all these, now with 13 months at the CIA.

    He has not only opposed the Iran deal vocally; he knows its content and when demanding changes can engage with the other nations that signed it.

    His British, French, German and Russian counterparts will not like what he has to say but they will find an interlocutor who understands what he is talking about. As CIA director, he largely kept silent on Russian affairs, knowing that the president is not interested in a confrontation with Moscow. He could be the right person to work with Israel on forging a deal with President Putin on a future in Syria that excludes Iran.

    However, the top priority now for the administration is the expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in May.

    The US has two possible courses of action: preserve the Iran deal as a template of what could be achieved with the North Koreans or pull out of it, as both President Trump and Mr Pompeo have advocated in the past in order to put more pressure on Mr Kim.

    The change of guard at the State Department is scheduled to take place in two weeks’ time. Jerusalem waits anxiously for signs of Mr Pompeo’s intentions.

    As for his predecessor: Rex Tillerson’s tenure was one of the shortest of any of the 68 men and women to have preceded him as the US Secretary of State. He also had the dubious distinction of being the first in nearly half a century not to have visited Israel. He leaves having had barely anything to say about one of the core issues of US foreign policy.

    Even before the Trump administration was sworn in, it was made clear that the White House – namely, the president’s three confidants, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman – would handle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    Mr Tillerson was perceived to have been one of the less pro-Israel players in the administration, reportedly opposing Mr Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

    In the aftermath of Mr Tillerson’s abrupt dismissal on Tuesday, many Washington commentators said it was not so much about policy differences as a belated personal reaction to his having reportedly called the president a “moron” seven months ago.

    Another theory is that Mr Tillerson’s continued support for the Iran nuclear deal ultimately caused his demise. President Trump himself mentioned that when asked by reporters for his reasons.

    That is certainly the assumption in Jerusalem, where there was barely concealed glee at Mr Tillerman’s departure and his replacement by CIA director Mike Pompeo.

    Curiously, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no immediate statement, restricting himself to a few words of courtesy about the departing secretary and congratulating the incoming one.

     

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