2018-03-28 / Mideast

What does Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State mean for Israel and the Jews?


Mike Pompeo at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan. 12, 2017. 
JTA photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Mike Pompeo at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan. 12, 2017. JTA photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. WASHINGTON—Like the rest of the world, Rex Tillerson got the news of his firing on Twitter.

“Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!” was the only reference to the now-outgoing secretary of state in a tweet President Donald Trump posted at 8:44 a.m. that also announced Tillerson’s nominated replacement, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and Pompeo’s replacement at the intelligence agency, Gina Haspel.

In an extraordinary statement, Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary for public affairs, tweeted: “The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” he was fired. Later that same day, Goldstein also was dismissed.

Trump, leaving the White House later that morning, told reporters, over strong winds, the reason for axing Tillerson: “I actually got along well with Rex, but really it was a different mindset, a different thinking.”

Of Pompeo, Trump said, “We’re always on the same wavelength.” He added: “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”

What do the departure of Tillerson and the elevation of Pompeo tell us about where Trump’s “wavelength” is when it comes to what matters to Israel and American Jews?

Trump looks serious about leaving the Iran deal.

Tillerson and Trump have tussled about a number of things—whether Russia is a reliable partner (Tillerson thought not, for Trump the jury is still out); whether to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear weapons capability (Tillerson recommended it; Trump at first knocked Tillerson down, but now seems ready to follow that path).

Notably, however, the reason Trump singled out in his impromptu White House lawn news conference was the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump said of Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently.”

Tillerson was one of the Cabinet-level officials staying Trump’s hand on the Iran deal, advising him to stick with what he saw as a bad agreement and amend it. Iran is hewing to the narrow parameters of the agreement, and the thinking by Tillerson and others, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, was that the United States would lose the leverage to persuade allies to pressure Iran by other means should Trump seek to kill the deal.

Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas before assuming his CIA role, opposed the deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. One rationale for the pact advanced by the Obama administration, which brokered the agreement, was that the only alternative was a military strike, which Obama officials believed would not necessarily kill Iran’s nuclear program and lead to open-ended war.

Pompeo as a congressman once said that a military strike was doable.

Trump likes Israel. A lot. Don’t get in his way.

After some equivocation during his candidacy over whether he would be “evenhanded” when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, Trump as president has made it clear he favors Israel.

“It’s fair to say I don’t have any disagreements” with Trump on Israel issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a recent visit to the nation’s capital.

A keystone of Trump’s Israel policy has been his recognition late last year of Jerusalem as its capital. The decision risked his efforts to revive Israeli- Palestinian talks, but it seems to be very personal. The Washington Post reported that a framed copy of Trump’s remarks recognizing Jerusalem hangs in the office of Ivanka Trump, his Jewish daughter and a top adviser to her father.

Tillerson as secretary of state tried to slow down the Jerusalem process, to little avail. Once Trump recognized the city as Israel’s capital, Tillerson endeavored to make clear that the embassy would not move anytime soon. Vice President Mike Pence, who backs the move, said it would move in 2019. Then the Trump administration said it would happen in May.

Pompeo as a congressman had high praise for Netanyahu and made his support for Israel a central point on his campaign website.

Pompeo sounds like the boss on radical Islam.

Long before the “Make America Great Again” red hat became an identifier of the politically incorrect, Pompeo spoke bluntly about the threat of radical Islam in Trumpian ways. As a congressman, he repeatedly chided Muslim leaders for not condemning Islamist terrorist attacks in ways that often rankles Jews, who are sensitive to collective blame. In many cases, however, Muslim leaders had in fact condemned the attacks. In 2015, Pompeo appeared at a “Defeat Jihad Summit” with figures known for their broadsides not just targeting Islamists but all Muslims.

In 2016, he called on a mosque in his district to cancel a speech by an American Muslim speaker who decades earlier had appeared in a video singing support for Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group. Pompeo chided the mosque for scheduling the appearance on Good Friday. The mosque soon started receiving threats and canceled the event, although it was not clear if Pompeo’s news-making release had a role in spurring the threats. 

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