President Trump was planning to give a speech in Israel from the ancient site of Masada. His reason for cancelling the visit is incredibly petty.
The fortress itself, which was built thousands of years ago during the reign of King Herod, is situated on the top of a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. To accommodate past presidential visits to Masada, the Israeli Air Force has asked for helicopters to land adjacent to the site to avoid blowing dust onto the ancient archaeological wonder, and ride a cable car to the summit.
“The Americans will land in the Bar Yehuda landing strip,” Eitan Campbell, director of Masada National Park, told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week. “They will go up to the mountain by cable car.”
As the Post article about the Masada visit described, no helicopters have been allowed on the ancient site for the past 20 years, due to another American helicopter that caused damage to the antiquities contained in the historic ruin:
In 1997, an Israeli Air Force helicopter landed in the middle of Masada, one of Israel’s most ancient and famous archaeological parks. It was carrying then-US Air Force commander Gen. Michael Ryan who had asked to visit the fortress, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But when the helicopter landed, it threw up far more than just sand and dust. Signs blew off their posts and the wind caused by the helicopter’s powerful propellers caused damage to the ruins.
However, Newsweek is reporting that Trump has refused the Israeli Air Force’s request, and is instead cancelling his visit to Masada altogether due to the restrictions on where he can land his helicopter. According to Martin Indyk, an Israel expert at prominent think tank Brookings, Trump’s decision to remove the Masada visit from his schedule has ruffled feathers in Israel:
Israeli mood soured by Masada speech cancellation, 15 minutes at Yad Vashem, refusal to call Western Wall Israel's or move embassy to J'm. https://t.co/Wmian7e83g
— Martin Indyk (@Martin_Indyk) May 18, 2017
The Masada snub is likely to put a sour note on Trump’s visit to America’s most powerful ally in the Middle East, particularly after reports this week that President Trump inadvertently leaked highly classified information obtained by an Israeli source to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. An unidentified Israeli intelligence officer told BuzzFeed that Trump’s leaking of the information was the country’s “worst fears confirmed.”
Kevin Wallace is a journalist with five years’ experience in print and digital media, and covers politics, media, and culture for the Resistance Report. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.