In an unprecedented move, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to fly to Israel this week during his successor Anthony Blinken’s first diplomatic trip to the region.
Sources privy to the former Trump administration official’s plans told Politico that while his itinerary is still in flux due to Israel’s strict pandemic-related travel rules, Pompeo intends to attend a retirement party being thrown for outgoing Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who is stepping down at the end of the month.
Pompeo was Cohen’s U.S. counterpart during his tenure as CIA chief from 2017-2018, prior to taking over as Washington’s top diplomat.
According to Politico, Pompeo may also meet with representatives of local nongovernmental organizations.
“I have not heard ever of a former CIA chief coming to Israel to take part in a farewell party for his Israeli counterpart,” a former Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz.
“The fact that he’s also a former secretary of state, and that he will be probably making a visit when the current secretary of state is here, only adds to the unprecedented character of the visit.”
The official added, “If the visit is maintained within the strict boundaries of the private realm” it would not be a “big issue,” but any meetings with Israeli officials would definitely constitute a breach of protocol.
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Pompeo, who informed the State Department of his plans, is no stranger to breaking precedent when it comes to Israel. Last November, he became the first secretary of state to visit a West Bank settlement and the Golan Heights, a year after reversing the U.S.’s longtime stance that that such settlements are “inconsistent with international law.”
That visit came on the heels of allegations by then-presidential candidate Joe Biden that Pompeo had politicized his trip by recording a video address to the Republican National Convention during a diplomatic trip to Jerusalem.
“Secretary Pompeo’s decision to address the Republican Convention from Jerusalem isn’t just an abuse of taxpayer dollars; it undermines the critical work being done by the State Department,” a Biden campaign spokesperson said in a statement at the time, stating that his “repeated and blatant use of his office for overtly political purposes” further damaged “critical alliances and global relationships that have already been so badly damaged by” the Trump administration.
Pompeo has been highly critical of the Biden administration’s approach to Israel, blaming the president for the most recent round of fighting with Hamas.
“The Biden Administration has clearly signaled weak support for the right of Israelis to defend themselves, inviting precisely the kinds of violence we are seeing in the region today,” he wrote in a recent article on the website of the American Center for Law and Justice.
“The Biden Administration refuses to support Israel against Palestinian terror because it risks undermining their efforts to get back into the nuclear deal with Iran,” he added.
Secretary of State Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday morning for a series of meetings with regional leaders in an attempt to “solidify” last Friday’s ceasefire “and reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months.” After meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials in Jerusalem, he is slated to travel to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian leadership before moving on to Cairo and Amman.
Speaking with reporters during a briefing on Monday, a senior State Department official denied that Blinken intended to push for progress on a two-state solution during his trip, stating, “It’s probably premature at this time to invite the parties to Washington or anywhere else.”