Netanyahu Calls Off Visit to NATO Summit After U.K. Cites 'Logistical Problems'

Sources say Merkel and Macron hadn’t responded to attempts to arrange meetings in London with the Israeli leader, who was set to meet with Pompeo

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t attend the NATO summit that will be held in London starting Tuesday, despite plans to meet with U.S. State Secretary Miko Pompeo.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51Haaretz

The two-day summit comes at a critical moment for the 29-member military alliance, which has been fraying in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s complaints that too many NATO members are spending too little on defense.

The White House said Trump is expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the summit's sidelines. Trump, however, has no meeting scheduled, as of now, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit host.

Officials involved in the planning of Netanyahu’s visit told Haaretz it was canceled over “logistical problems,” adding that many heads of states are set to attend the summit, and Netanyahu’s team gave organizers only a short notice.

Other officials said German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron hadn’t responded to diplomatic attempts to arrange meetings with Netanyahu on the summit’s sidelines.

Netanyahu now hopes to arrange a meeting with Pompeo in Lisbon later this week.

This is 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. 

This second request comes amid an especially tricky situation in the wake of the terrorist attack in London, contributing added stress for the capital's security forces. "It's a special kind of insolence to drop unexpectedly into another country like this, especially to meet a foreign leader," said one British official.

The Israeli leader, facing indictment for bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, reiterated Monday his claim that he should stay on as prime minister in order to seize the opportunity he claims exists to annex the disputed territory of the Jordan Valley with support from the U.S. administration.

During a visit to the southern city of Ashkelon, Netanyahu said that he had spoken Sunday with "President Trump, and it was a very important conversation to Israel's security. We've discussed the situation with Iran, but we also talked extensively about future historical opportunities that will be presented before us in the coming months."

"Among them," Netanyahu added, "is recognizing the Jordan valley as Israel's eastern border and signing a defense treaty with the United States. We have the possibility to realize things that we could only dream about."