Sitting beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, President Trump told reporters Monday he might go to Israel to attend the official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state in May.
Trump said the recognition of Jerusalem took one of the biggest issues preventing Israeli-Palestinian peace “off the table,” but the Palestinians have declared they regard the embassy move as a further provocation that makes coming to the negotiating table even less likely. When the State Department announced last month it will open a facility in Jerusalem timed for the May 14 anniversary, Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat called the move a “flagrant violation of international law and agreements” signed between the Palestinians and Israel that will “destroy” the “two-state solution.”
Netanyahu said at the White House, nevertheless, that the nuclear threat that Iran poses to the region has strengthened Israel’s cooperation with Arab nations, which he hopes will “extend” to the Palestinians.
“If I have to say what is our greatest challenge in the Middle East — to both our countries, to our Arab neighbors — it’s encapsulated in one word: Iran,” Netanyahu said.
“Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions. It came out of this nuclear deal emboldened, enriched,” he said, referring to the agreement made under the Obama administration. “It’s practicing aggression everywhere, including on our own borders.”
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Iran’s nuclear ambitions aren’t the only threat from the mullah-led regime. In November, Israeli satellite photos showed Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria, just 31 miles from Israel’s northern border. One week ago, new images emerged showing a base near Damascus housing missiles capable of hitting Israel. There are now at least 10 Iranian military installations in Syria manned by Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists or Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces.
“We have to stop this country that chants ‘death to Israel,’ ‘death to America.’ Iran must be stopped. That it our common challenge,” Netanyahu said at the White House.
Last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reminded the world that his Islamic regime seeks the destruction of Israel, recalling he had said “some years ago” that he had predicted Israel “won’t be around in 25 years.”
But Netanyahu said that “because of that challenge” from Iran, “we can exploit the opportunity for peace” with the Arabs, noting the “Arabs have never been closer to Israel, Israel has never been closer to the Arabs.”
“And we seek also to broaden that peace with the Palestinians,” he said.
A report last week in the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, which cites “knowledgeable Arab diplomatic sources,” said the Trump administration blueprint for Middle East peace proposes a state of “Palestine” that would get some of East Jerusalem as its capital, control of high ground in the disputed territories known as the West Bank and $40 billion in start-up money.
‘Remembered throughout the ages’
Netanyahu said Israel’s relationship with the United States has never been stronger, praising Trump for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
The prime minister put the recognition in historical context, noting “the Jewish people have a long memory.”
Some 2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish exiles in Babylon to return to rebuild the Temple. The Balfour Declaration a century ago recognized the rights of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. Seventy years ago, President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize the Jewish state.
“And we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Netanyahu said.
“Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people throughout the ages.”
Netanyahu noted he’s been in positions of leadership for nearly four decades seeking to build the Israel-America alliance.
“Under your leadership, it’s never been stronger,” he told Trump.
Some Iran watchers contend Iran’s placement of military installations in Syria and its nuclear program may be motivated more by Tehran’s desire to provoke an Islamic end-of-the-world cataclysm than for strategic value.
Shia prophecy espoused by the nation’s theocratic leadership holds a confrontation with the Jewish state will prompt the coming of a messianic figure, or “Mahdi.”
In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in 2008, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left the gathered politicians aghast as he begged Allah to hasten the return of the Mahdi.
“You are not dealing with fully rational actors,” Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project said last fall. “You can be irrational and strategic and pragmatic at the same time, which is what Iran is doing. If you understand these prophecies, you can understand Iran.”