“Our administration’s been very clear,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive Friday interview, published on Sunday. “Israel has the fundamental right to engage in activity that ensures the security of its people. It’s at the very core of what nation-states not only have the right to do, but an obligation to do.”
Immediately after assisting Vice President Mike Pence in negotiating a Syria ceasefire with Turkey in Ankara on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to Israel. He told the Israeli newspaper in the interview that the ceasefire deal with Erdogan "saved lives". However, with American troops now exiting Syria, the question of potential Iranian expansion and Israel's security was focus of his statements.
“We know this is a corner where Iran has attempted to move weapon systems across into Syria, into Lebanon, that threatens Israel, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have the capacity to identify those so that we can, collectively, respond appropriately,” Pompeo explained in the interview.
The interview followed a two hour meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on Friday morning. Netanyahu has long urged Washington to stay the course in Syria, rather than allow Assad and the Syrian Army to retake the country.
“I think the Israeli people should stare at the probably starkest change this administration has made in foreign policy vis-a-vis what the previous administration has done – the toughest sanctions we’ve ever put,” Pompeo continued to The Jerusalem Post.
“Sanctions that will be sufficient to decrease the scope and size of the Iranian economy by over 12% this next year. That’s serious stuff. We do this because this denies resources from Iran to do assassination campaigns in Europe, missile systems and infrastructure technology advancement, underwriting Hezbollah, Shia militias around the word. We have materially reduced their capacity to engage in those behaviors.”
However, it appears what he calls the "serious stuff" of sanctions is not going to satisfy the Israelis, given Tel Aviv will lobby the Pentagon to keep a troop contingent inside Iran-ally Syria, likely at al-Tanf on the Iraq-Syria border.
“I always take the Iranians at their word,” he said. “They have said that they would like to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and I think it is reasonable to think that the Iranians would contemplate an attack on Israel...”
"We should not suggest that this is mere bluster or threat, but they are engaged in activity that creates risk certainly for Israel, but we have seen what they did in Saudi Arabia and we’ve seen what they are doing today in Yemen, and we watch the activities they are engaged in Syria and the Shia militias in Iraq. This is a serious threat.”
Thus the secretary of state saying that “Israel has the fundamental right” to go after Iran amid such threats has been widely interpreted as essentially giving Tel Aviv leadership free reign to bomb any 'threatening' Iranian assets in the region.
Over the past months, Israel has done just that in Iraq of all places (and before that for the past couple years in Syria), where Iran-backed Iraqi militia bases have been targeted in a spate of 'mystery' airstrikes.