Pompeo Records Controversial RNC Speech From Jerusalem As Israel Bombs Gaza

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recorded his Republican National Convention speech in Jerusalem, Israel on Monday night, despite accusations of partisan imprompriety and while the Israeli military was bombing targets in the Palestinian Gaza Strip following an uptick in violence there.

Pompeo reportedly recorded his speech at sunset on a Jerusalem rooftop, overlooking the city to which President Donald Trump controversially moved the U.S. embassy in 2018. Pompeo tweeted that he was looking forward to "sharing with you how my family is more SAFE and more SECURE because of President Trump" during his address.

Democrats and former diplomats have condemned Pompeo for taking part in the RNC. His inclusion breaks with tradition of secretaries of state and other diplomats avoiding party conventions per the Hatch Act, which governs political activities by federal employees.

Pompeo and the RNC have said the secretary of state will be appearing in a personal capacity and that the address will be funded by the RNC, not American taxpayers, meaning it does not violate the Hatch Act. But critics have said his appearance at least violates the spirit of the law.

Indeed, the Associated Press reported that Pompeo sent a cable to all U.S. diplomatic missions in July warning diplomats not to publicly take sides in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Pompeo has emerged as one of the most vocal and influential members of Trump's administration. The former Kansas congressman headed the CIA under Trump before being promoted to Secretary of State in April 2018. Pompeo has fronted Trump's "America First" foreign policy and has been touted as a potential future Republican president.

Pompeo is likely to laud Trump's Middle East policies during Tuesday's address. The convention comes on the heels of the historic Israel-UAE normalization agreement which was facilitated by the U.S. and is a major feather in Trump's foreign policy hat. A dispute about advanced weapon sales to the UAE has taken some of the shine off the deal, but the administration will still celebrate it as a major coup.

The administration is now pushing for normalization agreements with other Arab nations. Pompeo flew from Israel to Sudan on Monday aboard the first official direct flight between the two countries. Sudan, Bahrain and Oman have all been suggested as the next countries that might normalize ties with Israel.

Pompeo's speech will likely also celebrate Trump's near unquestioning support of Israel during his time in the White House—a key element of the president's appeal among neoconservatives and evangelicals.

The administration has sidelined the Palestinians to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and propose a peace plan critics say would formalize Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and produce a neutered, fragmented Palestinian state.

Pompeo's choice of the holy city of Jerusalem—claimed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority as their capital city—as the backdrop for his speech will likely further undermine the White House's ties with the Palestinians.

Pompeo recorded his speech as Israeli forces continued attacks on Gaza, which has been under aerial and artillery bombardment almost daily since August 6. Israeli forces are responding to rocket and sniper attacks from Gaza, plus arson balloons floated into Israel that have caused hundreds of fires this month.

Israel has also tightened its blockade of Gaza—in place since 2007 in cooperation with Egypt—to ban fuel imports for the coastal enclave's only power plant, forcing residents into darkness. Already Gazans were living with regular power outages, rampant unemployment, and the shortage of basic goods.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz—who will become prime minister in 2021 under a power sharing deal with coalition partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—said Monday he would step up Israeli strikes if attacks from Gaza continued.

"The heads of Hamas need to know: When balloons explode on our side, the explosions on their side will be much more painful," Gantz said, referring to the leaders of the Islamist militant group that took control of the Strip by force in 2007.

Hamas officials, meanwhile, have vowed to continue attacks until the blockade is eased. Reports published Monday suggested that the head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, Major General Herzi Halevi, has traveled to Qatar to seek a ceasefire with Hamas leaders.

The uptick in militant activity from Gaza is believed to be linked to demands for increased cash transfers from Qatar into the impoverished Strip, the Times of Israel reported.

Gaza also went into lockdown Monday after four cases of COVID-19 were discovered outside the Strip's quarantine facilities, raising fears of a wider outbreak. The Strip's health system is already fragile, and officials have warned that a coronavirus outbreak could prove catastrophic.

Israel, Gaza, Mike Pompeo, RNC, speech, airstrikes
Smoke and flames rise after Israeli war planes carried out airstrikes on Gaza City on August 18, 2020. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images/Getty