Mon Feb 12, 2018 03:02PM [Updated: Mon Feb 12, 2018 05:58PM ]
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Cairo on February 12, 2018.  (AFP photo)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Cairo on February 12, 2018. (AFP photo)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Cairo, Egypt, beginning a trip through the Middle East as he faces confrontational talks at almost every stop on his five-country tour.

Tillerson started his trip on Sunday, but a key US ally, Israel, is conspicuously absent from his itinerary.

When the trip was first announced this week, with stops in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Kuwait, Israeli politicians rebuked Tillerson for skipping Israel.

"The consistent absence of the Secretary of State [from] Israel is probably unprecedented," former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted.

Shapiro called Tillerson not stopping in Israel a "mistake" and tweeted it was "yet another blow to Tillerson's credibility as an authoritative voice for US policy."

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, Tillerson said Washington remained committed to achieving a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as the "capital" of Israel.

On Saturday, Trump said Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian territories have "complicated" the so-called peace process and urged "care" over the issue.

In an interview with Israel Hayom newspaper, Trump also said he did not believe the Israelis, as well as the Palestinians, were ready to make peace.

Tensions escalated in the region after Tillerson's trip was confirmed, as Syrian anti-aircraft shot down an advanced US-made Israeli warplane on Saturday.

It was Syria's first serious air defense operation to confront Israeli violations of its airspace.

Israel claimed that it had earlier intercepted an "Iranian" drone, and that the warplanes had been dispatched to hit the site where the drone had been launched from, only to face Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Iran rejected the claim about an Iranian drone as "too ludicrous to warrant a response." And the Syrian military said it had responded to Israeli "aggression" and had hit more than one aircraft.

Trump administration policies will be at the center of Tillerson’s talks in Amman, Jordan’s capital.

With a large Palestinian population, Jordan is unhappy with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

But the most contentious stop this week is likely to be in Turkey, where anti-American sentiment is rising, with some officials in Ankara calling the United States an enemy of Turkey.