(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Mike Pompeo as a hero during his two-day visit to Israel last week and it’s no wonder. While most of the attention, and credit, has gone to his boss, Donald Trump, there has never been an American Secretary of State so unambiguously supportive of the Jewish State and its interests.
In a joint appearance in Jerusalem, the Israeli Prime Minister praised the many transformative policies of the Trump years, from the U.S. declaration of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights to the recognition by the State Department of Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital. He also acknowledged Pompeo’s key role in expediting Israeli peace deals with three Arab Sunni states.
Pompeo is increasingly spoken of as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, and he behaved like one. His trip was an exercise in diplomacy as political barnstorming. He flew to the Golan Heights in a military helicopter, denounced those “in the salons of Europe and the elite institutions in America” who want Israel to give up the territory to Assad’s Syria, and proclaimed the region to be an integral part of the Jewish State.
He lunched at a West Bank settlement, a first ever visit by a Secretary of State to the disputed region. There he announced that Israelis have every right to live and work in what he calls Judea and Samaria, the Biblical names used by Israel, and announced that, henceforth, products produced there and sold in the U.S. would be labelled “made in Israel.”
While it got no official mention, Pompeo’s role in preventing a potentially disastrous Middle Eastern war that President Donald Trump was considering gave Israel another reason to be grateful. According to the New York Times, Trump asked senior aides to provide him with military options after the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran has a stockpile of low-enriched uranium 12 times larger than permitted by the nuclear agreement, which the U.S. abandoned in 2018.
Any U.S. attack on the Iranian nuclear program would likely result in retaliation in the form of missile attacks on Israeli cities by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. A senior State Department official tells me it was Pompeo who requested an urgent meeting with the President. Once with the president, Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and the acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller dissuaded the Trump, explaining that an attack on Iran could lead to a dangerous escalation in the region.
Back in Jerusalem, Pompeo met with Netanyahu and thrilled the Prime Minister by officially declaring the controversial Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to be an inherently anti-Semitic organization. “The people of Israel have not had a better friend,” Netanyahu said.
This was the endorsement Pompeo had come for. Bibi is a Republican in all but party registration and he has considerable influence in the GOP. It is very possible that Netanyahu will still be in office when the primaries of 2024 roll around. Even if not, his blessing will be eagerly sought by potential candidates.
Netanyahu and Trump are on cheek-kissing terms, and if the President decides to run again, it would be hard for Netanyahu to support anyone else. But if the field is open, Pompeo would be a logical choice. Netanyahu values his judgement and steadiness, qualities Pompeo exhibited in the recent mini-missile crisis in Washington. Right now, he looks like the leading suitor for Bibi’s help in restoring a Trumpian Middle Eastern policy, minus the drama, to the White House.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Zev Chafets is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the founding managing editor of the Jerusalem Report Magazine.
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