Two leaders mired in scandal meet for lunch

Trump and Netanyahu are focused on anything but the scandals surrounding them.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017, in New York. (CREDIT:  Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017, in New York. (CREDIT: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu meets with President Donald Trump for lunch on Monday, there are things that the two will likely not discuss, like the criminal investigation swirling around Netanyahu or the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

According to the White House schedule, Trump and Netanyahu’s meeting on Monday is closed to the press, and there will be no joint news conference. But their agenda isn’t entirely unknown.

It’s widely expected that the two will discuss their common bête noire, Iran, because Netanyahu said as much.

“I intend to discuss a series of issues with (President Trump), but foremost Iran, its aggression, nuclear ambitions and aggressive actions in the Middle East, including along our very border,” said Netanyahu before leaving Israel this weekend.

Advertisement

Netnayahu has seen Iran as an existential threat to Israel for time in memorial, saying at different times that Iran is yearsmonths, or just weeks away from having a nuclear weapon it has never come close to having and has insisted it never wanted.

Trump has also made Iran a focus of his presidency thus far. He appears hellbent on dismantling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement signed between Iran, the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Germany that limits the scope of Iran’s nuclear energy program in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the Associated Press reports that, “Israel is increasingly worried that Trump is backsliding on a pledge to ‘fix’ or dismantle the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.” (Never mind that on Monday, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said that undoing the JCPOA would be “great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism.”) What Israel is primarily concerned about is that Trump will call for restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program but only focus on missiles that can reach the United States, leaving Israel vulnerable.

Advertisement

Both Trump and Netanyahu are increasingly concerned with Iran’s presence in Syria. Iran and Russia have been backing government forces in the ongoing civil war there. While Israel has been carrying out operations in the south of the country to counter Iran, the United States has largely been flailing to come up with a strategy that will serve a list of complicated, at times contradictory goals there.

Israel has also accused Iran of planning to build a missile factory in Lebanon, where Iran exerts great influence via its backing of of the Hezbollah party.

Trump and Netnayahu might discuss Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which has not yet materialized. But it is all a moot point since Trump unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish capital in December, vowing to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. Palestinians say that the United States can no longer broker a peace deal between them and the Israelis.

Still, the Jerusalem Post reported on Friday that Jared Kushner — Trump’s senior advisor, son-in-law, and the man appointed by the president to draft that plan — is “putting the finishing touches” on the agreement, that he hopes will “revive” his career at the White House.

Advertisement

Kushner’s security clearance was downgraded “to a level lower than that held by White House calligraphers and chefs” reports the paper, and the Washington Post reported that foreign governments (including Israel) sought to exploit Kushner’s inexperience.