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22 May 2017

Trump visits Israel, speaks against Iran

Donald Trump started his trip in Asia and Europe with a bang, the signing of a $110bn weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal includes purchases of tanks, Blackhawk helicopters, THAAD missile defence systems and ships.

The weapons sale is one of the largest in history. It comes in a moment when military defence contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, are struggling to find new contracts and customers around the world. Much of this military hardware will be used in Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, which has offered few gains against the Shia Houthis on ground.

In his speech in Riyadh and in front of King Salman, Trump urged the Arab and Islamic leaders to do their share in fighting against Islamic extremism. Arab leaders, who were invited to Riyadh, gave a warm welcome to Donald Trump whom they see as the president that can crack down on the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East region. “Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It’s a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel and America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room,” said Trump.

Trump avoided to make any mention of the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. The president’s approach towards Iran and the protection of human rights signals the beginning of a turn in US policy. During Obama’s presidency, the US diplomacy managed to come into terms with the Iranian government, revoking sanctions instead of the “freezing” of the Iranian nuclear programme. Trump seems to be turning the US back to its old Sunni Arab allies, who didn’t like Obama’s policies in the region.

After Riyadh, president Trump is visiting today Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel. Israeli officials have already express their concerns over the weapons deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. Even if there is an exchange of information, under the table, between the two countries, officially there are no diplomatic relationships.

The Air Force One, carrying Trump and the US delegation, from Riyadh to Tel Aviv is the first plane to break the barrier of direct flights between the two countries. Trump was welcomed by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion international airport. Trump talked about a rare opportunity to bring peace and security back in the region, while Netanyahu said that he dreams about the day that an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly directly to Riyadh, just as the American president did.

In front of the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, Trump was clearer regarding who he thinks that represents a danger for the region’s stability. “There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbours that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran. The US and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Never, ever. And must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militants,” said Trump, using the same rhetoric that he used in Saudi Arabia.

The visit is expected to reveal the US’ administration plans for the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which collapsed in 2014. The Israeli cabinet passed a package of measures, which aims to bolster the Palestinian economy, as a gesture of good will ahead of Trump’s visit. Analysts said that, in return, Netanyahu will ask from Trump to impose new sanctions on Iran for threatening Israel with missile attacks and sponsoring terrorist groups.

Trump will visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where he will meet Mahmud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. Trump will stay in Israel for 28 hours, before departing to travel to Vatican City.