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Trump, Netanyahu Discuss ‘Critical Regional Issues’

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke by phone overnight between Wednesday and Thursday about what the White House vaguely described as “critical bilateral and regional issues.” The call was set up in the wake of Iran’s ballistic missile attack on US assets in Iraq early on Wednesday in retaliation for last Friday’s assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad. It also followed Netanyahu’s meeting in Jerusalem earlier this week with Avi Berkowitz, the Trump Administration’s new chief Israeli-Palestinian negotiator. The tete-a-tete raised speculation that the White House could be preparing to release its long-delayed Middle East peace plan before Israel’s March 2 national election. The nighttime call also came on the backdrop of the firing of two rockets into Baghdad’s Green Zone, one of which fell close to the US Embassy. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, similar incidents have been attributed to Iran-aligned Iraqi paramilitary forces. Irrespective, it suggests that calm may be far from being restored. Indeed, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that Wednesday’s attack targeting American forces in Iraq constituted merely “a slap in the face,” and stressed that the Islamic Republic would only be satisfied once the US military fully withdrew from the region.