Netanyahu to Talk Iran, Annexation With Pompeo in Lisbon After Nixed London Trip

The PM and state secretary are set to discuss 'developments in the region,' after planned meeting on the sidelines of NATO summit was called off over 'logistics'

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu set to take off to Lisbon, Ben-Gurion International Airport, December 4, 2019.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to depart Wednesday for a two-day visit in Lisbon, where he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after an initial plan to meet Pompeo in London during the NATO summit had been called off.

According to Netanyahu's office, the two will discuss "Iran and the region's developments."

Netanyahu's Thursday meeting with Pompeo comes after his phone call with President Donald Trump on Sunday, when they also discussed the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which Netanyahu told voters in September he would achieve.

While in Portugal, Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva.

Before taking off from Tel Aviv, Netanyahu told reporters his meeting with Pompeo would be focused on “Iran, first of all,” a mutual defense treaty and a “future” American recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley.

Asked by reporters about comments made earlier on Wednesday by Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, who told Kan Bet public radio there would be “no more negotiations” on a unity government with Kahol Lavan, Netanyahu said he “expressed deep frustration felt by many in Likud and in the general public over the fact that after the generous proposals we gave Kahol Lavan, they wouldn’t move even a nanometer… They simply refuse [a unity government], which clashes with very important national interests, because of the individual interests of one person, Yair Lapid.”

Likud has argued Kahol Lavan co-leader Lapid is behind the party’s objection to sit in a government with Netanyahu.

If unity talks fail, “we’ll go to election, and we’ll win it,” Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu also said the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran is working, citing ongoing protests in the country, adding that “it’s important to increase the pressure against Iranian aggression.”

Mike Pompeo greeted by Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel, October 17, 2019.
David Azagury / U.S. Embassy Jerusalem

The visit comes at a sensitive political time in Israel, as lawmakers have a week left to nominate a candidate for prime minister before a new election is triggered, which would be the third within a year.

In coalition talks with Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, which now appear to be at an impasse, Netanyahu – facing indictment in three corruption cases – has insisted on serving first in the case of a rotation unity government. His argument is that he wants to "exhaust processes" which he started with the Trump administration, most notably regarding annexation. 

Netanyahu planned a visit to the NATO summit that started Tuesday in London, but officials involved in the planning of Netanyahu’s visit told Haaretz it was canceled over “logistical problems,” adding that the Israeli team gave organizers only a short notice.

That was the second time in recent months that Netanyahu plans snap visits to the United Kingdom to meet with American officials, requiring preparations by British security agencies, also facing a rising threat of terrorism.

In September he did so to meet with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. At the same time, he tried to squeeze in a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was himself in the midst of a political crisis and only managed to give him half an hour of his time.