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Date set for first official Trump-Netanyahu meeting

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump will hold their first official meeting on February 15, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday.

    Mr Netanyahu said on Monday night he would ask Mr Trump to increase sanctions against Iran, especially it emerged the Islamic Republic had carried out a ballistic missile test on Sunday.

    An anonymous US official provided told Reuters that the rocket had been launched from a site near Semnan, east of Tehran. Apparently, the Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a re-entry vehicle.

    Meanwhile, a tweet by Mr Netanyahu in support of Mr Trump's plan to build a wall on his country's border with Mexico has kicked off a diplomatic furore.

    Israeli officials claimed Mr Netanyahu had not been commenting on Mr Trump's controversial plan, but the Mexican government now demands an official apology.

    On Saturday night, Mr Netanyahu tweeted: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea".

    Mr Netanyahu was referring to the new border fence built on Israel's border with Egypt in 2011-2012. The fence was rebuilt following a terror attack by infiltrators from Egypt in August 2011, in which eight Israelis were killed, but it has also blocked African migrants who, until then, were crossing the border in their thousands.

    Sensing trouble, a Foreign Ministry spokesman quickly tried to clarify, saying: "The prime minister referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share. We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations". But the Mexicans were not having any of it, and diplomatic protests were quick to arrive, in addition to complaints from the Mexican Jewish community that such an intervention was hardly helpful for them either.

    On Monday morning, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said Mr Netanyahu’s words were "like an aggressive" attack and suggested Israel should apologise. Israel's ambassador in Mexico City was called in to clarify the statement.

    However, at a Likud parliamentary faction meeting on Monday Mr Netanyahu did not seem willing to back down, blaming the media for "diverting attention from the real thing - the fantastic success of the fence we built in the south in blocking infiltration. A success the entire world, including the president of the United States recognises". He insisted no harm had been done to Israel's relations with Mexico.

    Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro opined on Twitter that it was "hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump's demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants, the quid pro quo. But for what? Cancelling the Iran deal? Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem? Supporting building in settlement blocs?"

    If moving the embassy was on Mr Netanyahu's mind, an interview with President Trump on the Christian Broadcasting Network made it clear that it would not be happening soon. While Mr Trump said he liked the "concept" of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, he has yet to make a decision as "this has two sides to it. It’s not easy.”

     

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