- Rex Tillerson is going on a five-country tour of the Middle East this week.
- Israel is noticeably absent from his itinerary.
- Tensions escalated in the region after Tillerson’s trip was confirmed, and skipping Israel is looking more and more like a mistake.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson started a multi-country tour of the Middle East on Sunday, but a key US ally is conspicuously absent from his itinerary.
When the trip was first announced this week – with stops in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Kuwait – Middle East experts questioned why Tillerson was skipping Israel.
“The consistent absence of the Secretary of State [from] Israel is probably unprecedented,” former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted. “No solo visit in his first year (he did come with Trump in May), and now a regional tour to Israel’s neighbors, but no stop in Jerusalem.”
Shapiro called Tillerson not stopping in Israel a “mistake” and tweeted it’s “yet another blow to Tillerson’s credibility as an authoritative voice for US policy.” In a tweeted thread, the former ambassador pointed to issues impacting Israel that will come up in each country Tillerson is visiting, from fighting ISIS to reconstructing Iraq.
Tensions escalated in the region after Tillerson’s trip was confirmed, as Syrian anti-aircraft shot down an Israeli jet on Saturday. Israel had earlier intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria and struck an Iranian target in Syria.
“The United States is deeply concerned about today’s escalation of violence over Israel’s border and strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Saturday. “Iran’s calculated escalation of threat and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region – from Yemen to Lebanon – at risk.”
The weekend’s actions have increased calls for Tillerson to add Israel to his Middle East trip, including from a US senator.
“Tillerson should change his schedule and go to Israel on Middle East trip,” Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted Sunday morning. “Make clear we will support Israel’s ability to defend its borders, increase funding for Israel’s protection.”
Yaakov Katz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, compared the work of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in working with Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War with the current situation between Israel and Syria.
“Now, Tillerson in region not even coming here. Another sign how Russia is Syrian power broker and @realDonaldTrump has disengaged,” Katz tweeted Sunday morning.
Shapiro, the former US ambassador, expanded on his tweetstorm in a Haaretz column on Sunday that addressed the recent activity in Syria.
Tillerson not visiting Israel “made little sense before the Iranian incursion yesterday. It would be malpractice now,” Shapiro writes. “The Secretary needs to come to Israel.”
The US seems to have heard the complaints. A State Department official told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Tillerson has “not ruled out” a trip to Israel during his Middle East trip.