US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said it is “possible” that President Donald Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network during a high-profile trip to Israel, he said it was his faith that made him believe that.
He also praised US efforts to “make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains”.
The comments came on a Jewish holiday celebrating rescue from genocide.
The holiday, Purim, commemorates the biblical rescue of the Jewish people by Queen Esther from the Persians, as the interviewer noted to Mr Pompeo.
What did Pompeo say?
He was asked if “President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace”.
“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” said Mr Pompeo, a former Kansas senator and CIA director.
“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he added.
Mr Pompeo came under fire during his tour of the Middle East for holding a conference call and only inviting “faith-based” members of the media to join.
How often do US officials invoke religion?
Mr Pompeo is not the first Trump official to suggest a divine will behind Mr Trump’s actions: In January, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told a religious television network that God “wanted Donald Trump to become president”.
Vice-President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions have also referenced Christianity or bible verses in official remarks.
His administration is also the first in 100 years to have a Cabinet member bible study group – of which Mr Pompeo was a member.
What is the current state of US-Iran relations?
Since becoming president, Mr Trump has sought a hard-line stance against Iran.
In May 2018, Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, calling it “a horrible one-sided deal”.
On Friday, his administration imposed new sanctions on 14 individuals and 17 organisations allegedly involved with Iran’s nuclear programme, claiming Iran would not answer questions about its weapons and research.
The new sanctions have barred these individuals and organisations from accessing the US financial system or any US assets.
And the threat of secondary US sanctions also discourages other countries from doing business with the targeted entities, making them “radioactive internationally”.
What about US-Israel relations?
Also on Thursday, Mr Trump announced a change in US policy toward the Golan Heights, saying that the territory Israel has occupied from Syria since 1967 should be recognised as part of Israel.
In recent days, Mr Trump has accused his Democratic rivals of being “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish”.
The president is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week, when he is in Washington to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) annual meeting.
The remarks by Mr Pompeo, and the Golan announcement by Mr Trump, come just weeks before Israeli elections are held on 9 April. BBC News