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Pompeo Seeks to Reassure Israel        10/18 06:17

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israel's prime 
minister on Friday to reaffirm the countries' close ties at a time when many in 
Israel fear the Trump administration intends to cut and run from the Middle 
East.

   The meeting came a day after a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike 
Pence and Pompeo reached an agreement with Turkey to halt its week-old 
offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkey invaded after the 
U.S. moved its troops aside, abandoning the Syrian Kurdish fighters America had 
partnered with against the Islamic State group. Turkey views the Kurdish 
fighters as terrorists because of their links to an insurgency inside its 
borders.

   Israel has strongly condemned the offensive, with Prime Minister Benjamin 
Netanyahu warning of "ethnic cleansing." Others have expressed fear that 
President Donald Trump's stated desire to get out of "stupid endless wars" in 
the Middle East makes him an unreliable ally as Israel confronts threats from 
Iran.

   In brief remarks after their meeting, Pompeo said "the remarkable, close 
relationship between our two countries is as strong as it has ever been." He 
said they discussed ways to push back against Iran, and "efforts to jointly 
combat all the challenges that the world confronts here in the Middle East."

   Netanyahu thanked America for its "consistent support" and said they 
discussed ways of making the alliance "even stronger."

   When asked about the agreement to halt the fighting in northern Syria, 
Netanyahu said "we hope things will turn out for the best," without 
elaborating. Pompeo declined to comment.

   Netanyahu has portrayed his close relationship with Trump as a godsend for 
Israel, pointing to the American president's decisions to withdraw from the 
Iranian nuclear deal and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

   But Israelis have expressed alarm over a series of recent decisions, 
culminating in the Syria pullout, that they fear portend an American withdrawal 
from the region. Trump's expressed willingness to open negotiations with Iran, 
which nearly resulted in talks with President Hassan Rouhani, raised fears that 
the U.S. would back away from tough sanctions on the Islamic republic. Trump's 
refusal so far to retaliate for an attack on Saudi oil facilities, which the 
U.S. blamed on Iran , sparked further concern.

   "The United States' abandonment of the Kurds has raised great concern in 
Israel: Trump abandons allies without blinking and Israel is liable to be 
next," the popular daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper said in an article earlier 
this week. "The entire balance of power in the Middle East is built on a very 
delicate web of supports, pressures, understandings and agreements_and Trump is 
unraveling that web."

   Rapid advances by Turkish forces this week forced the Kurds to turn to 
Syrian President Bashar Assad for protection, and Syrian and Russian forces 
have already fanned out across the vast swathes of northeastern Syria held by 
the Kurds. That could allow Iran, a close ally of Assad, to further expand its 
presence, which already stretches across the Middle East to Israel's northern 
frontier.

   The questions about the U.S. alliance come at a sensitive time for 
Netanyahu, who made his relations with Trump and other top world leaders a 
major plank of his campaign ahead of last month's elections. The vote left him 
deadlocked with his main opponent, with no clear path for either to form a 
government.

   On Wednesday, a Yediot Ahronot columnist accused Netanyahu of placing all 
his eggs in "Trump's basket," saying the American president has become a 
"flimsy crutch."


(KR)

 
 
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