US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit will try to finalise at least one more normalisation deal with an Arab state ahead of the agreement signing between the UAE and Israel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets the Chargs D’Affaires Jonathan Shrier after landing in Ben Gurion airport in Israel, August 24, 2020.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets the Chargs D’Affaires Jonathan Shrier after landing in Ben Gurion airport in Israel, August 24, 2020. (Matty Stern / U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has landed in Israel on the first leg of his Mideast tour to press the momentum of the Trump administration’s Arab-Israeli peace push.

Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on Monday, and the two were expected to discuss the recently announced historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, brokered by Washington, to establish diplomatic ties. 

He praised Israel's normalisation of ties with the UAE and said he hoped to see other Arab countries follow suit.

"I'm very hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this," he said standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting.

He told reporters the US would continue to ensure Israel enjoyed a military edge in the Middle East under any future US arms deals with the United Arab Emirates.

"The United States has a legal requirement with respect to the qualitative military edge. We will continue to honour that," Pompeo said.

The two were expected to also discuss Iran and China.

READ MORE: Netanyahu and MBZ 'to meet' ahead of signing normalisation deal

The agreement delivered a key foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said earlier he and Pompeo would talk about "expanding the circle of peace in our region ... We're working on peace with more countries, and I think there will be more countries – and in the not-so-distant future".

Earlier this month, the US, Israel and the UAE announced the deal to establish full diplomatic relations, which also requires Israel to freeze its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank sought by the Palestinians as part of their future state.

READ MORE: Palestinians have been bombed every day since UAE-Israel normalisation

Later in the trip, Pompeo was to meet with Netanyahu's partner in the government and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as well as Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

READ MORE: No diplomatic ties with Israel without Palestinian peace: Saudi Arabia

After his Israel stop Pompeo was also slated to visit Sudan, the UAE and Bahrain, with additional stops in the Gulf possible, the State Department had said. In Sudan, the secretary of state said he would push for “deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship.”

Bombing Gaza

Ahead of Pompeo's arrival, the Israeli military said it struck militant targets in the Gaza Strip early on Monday, in response to incendiary balloons launched into Israel the day before. It was the latest exchange as tensions between the two sides intensified in recent weeks.

The army said it bombed “military posts and an underground infrastructure” belonging to Hamas, the Palestinian political party that governs Gaza. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

READ MORE: What the UAE-Israel deal means for Iran's security

Israel says armed groups affiliated with Hamas have launched scores of incendiary balloons into southern Israel in recent weeks, causing extensive damage to farmland, in a bid to pressure Israel to ease the blockade imposed since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. 

On Friday, Palestinian armed groups launched 12 rockets at Israel, nine of which were intercepted, in the largest outbreak of violence in recent months.

Israel has responded to the balloons and sporadic rocket fire with airstrikes targeting militant positions.

READ MORE: Turkey mulls suspending diplomatic relations with UAE over Israel deal

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous smaller skirmishes in the past 13 years. 

Last week Egyptian mediators tried to ease tensions and bolster the informal truce between Israel and Hamas that has largely held since the 2014 war in Gaza.

Source: AP