This week, US President Joe Biden made his 10th trip to Israel in five decades of public service, arriving in Israel on Wednesday. Biden, a self-declared Zionist, first traveled to Israel in 1973 as a newly sworn-in, 30-year-old US Senator and met with Israel’s first female prime minister, Golda Meir.
This week, President Biden has had a full schedule, attending various ceremonies (including a trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, and going to the opening ceremony of the Jewish Olympics) and meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and others.
The stakes are high for all the politicians:
Biden’s approval rating, at around 36%, is a sign of a bad economy and growing concerns over his mental stamina to be the nominee in 2024.
Lapid has been given a gift by being installed as Israel’s 14th Prime Minister just months before the November 1st elections. Normally, such a stint would not be significant, but hosting the US President boosts his stature and if he can swing a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, his chances to continue in the position will be helped.
Netanyahu, still the opposition leader, met with Biden, but without much fanfare. Netanyahu had an adversarial relationship with the Obama Administration. However, he was proved right on Iran.
One of the first things Biden did was declare the US’s intentions to keep Iran from going nuclear. In Jerusalem on Thursday, Biden and Lapid signed a joint strategic declaration. The US promised to use “all elements in its national power” to stop the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons. He shocked many when he told Channel 12’s Yonit Levy that the US would use force as “a last resort” to stop Iran.
The Jerusalem US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration affirms:
“The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome.”
“The United States further affirms the commitment to work together with other partners to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilizing activities, whether advanced directly or through proxies and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
Lapid did not hold back, though, on letting President Biden know that he thought it would take more than tough talk to keep Iran in check.
“Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table,” Lapid said. “It should not be a bluff, but the real thing. The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.”
Regarding the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian situation, Biden said he “affirms his longstanding and consistent support of a two-state solution and for advancing toward a reality in which Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity.” However, it was clear that this was merely window dressing and the Palestinians could sense it.
Several things have changed Biden’s policy on the Middle East, which is starting to look more like Trump’s and less like Obama’s.
- The Palestinian Authority has not had elections in 17 years! They have descended into autocracy.
- It is clear that more and more Arab nations are no longer willing to allow the Palestinians to hold them hostage, so to speak, keeping them from making peace with Israel.
- Biden has chosen the Saudis over Iran, since it is clear Iran is intent on getting nukes.
Today, Biden plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but the US President doesn’t think either side is ready for peace talks. “I know it’s not [feasible] in the near term.” But his administration does want to look for ways to improve life for the Palestinians in the West Bank, and that will be the focus of Biden’s talks with Abbas.
The joint declaration promised that the US would fulfill its commitment to implement a $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) toward Israel’s defense as a sign of “the unbreakable bonds between our two countries and the enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.”
Defense Secretary Gantz, who is also seeking to look like Prime Minister material ahead of the November elections, gave Biden a tour of Israel’s multi-level air defense systems, including the Iron Beam, a high-tech laser interception system that is in development. The declaration vowed continued cooperation between the two countries on the development of “cutting-edge defense technologies such as high energy laser weapons systems to defend the skies of Israel and in the future those of other US and Israel security partners.”
The US and Israel also agreed on calling for an end to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine (although Israel has not joined in the West’s sanctions on Russia), denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the UN and International Criminal Court’s attempts to single out Israel for war crimes against the Palestinians.
“The United States and Israel affirm that among the values the countries share is an unwavering commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the calling of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ repairing the world,” read the declaration.
Also, on Thursday, President Biden received the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor.
“You know that my love for Israel is deep-rooted,” Biden said as he accepted the award from Israel President Herzog. “I’ve had the honor — it’s hard to say these words, for over 50 years, it can’t be that long — but for over 50 years in the federal government, helping build the relationship. As a leader, I can say without hesitation that receiving this award today is one of the greatest honors of my career, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
“Israel and the United States are both places built on hope, grit, and determination. Seeing Israel thrive, seeing the wildest dreams of Israel’s founding fathers and mothers grow into a reality that Israel’s children enjoy today, to me, is close to miraculous.”
After a visit with Abbas today, President Biden will continue on to Saudi Arabia, the final stop on his Middle East tour.
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