What’s happened: US President Joe Biden spent the last two days in Israel. In his public statements he has heaped praise on the bilateral relationship and highlighted his strong personal affinity to Israel.
- Biden is the seventh US president to visit Israel since Richard Nixon (who was the first) in 1974.
- This was Biden’s tenth visit since first coming in 1973 as a young senator.
- At the opening ceremony, Biden reiterated his proud identity as a Christian Zionist.
- His trip included an emotional visit to Yad Vashem, where he broke protocol, kneeling to talk for several minutes to two elderly Holocaust survivors.
Iranian threat top agenda item: Following the arrival ceremony, Biden was given a presentation of Israel’s multi-tiered defence systems, including the “Iron Beam” high-power laser interception system.
- He was also presented with new sensitive and classified information that Iran is developing new weapons systems, and proliferating them among their regional proxies.
- Defence Minister Benny Gantz presented President Biden with a list of security agreements, some of which were recently signed, between Israel and Arab countries that do not have formal diplomatic relations .
- Israel would like the US to apply pressure so that those agreements are made public.
- In the working meeting yesterday between Prime Minister Lapid and President Biden and their teams, the Prime Minister thanked the President for his decision not to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from the US list of terrorist organisations.
- Lapid also emphasised his opposition to returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement and the need to intensify the pressure on Iran so that it will return to the negotiating table to discuss an alternative agreement.
- Later at the joint press conference, Biden reiterated his belief in the diplomatic process. Lapid responded saying: “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 programme the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table … the Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.”
Jerusalem Declaration: The two leaders signed a new US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration. The document confirms:
- “The enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security. Our countries further reaffirm that the strategic US-Israel partnership is based on a bedrock of shared values, shared interests, and true friendship … unwavering commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the calling of “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world.
- The document consolidates the, “Unshakeable US commitment to Israel’s security, and especially to the maintenance of its qualitative military edge, the United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter its enemies and to defend itself by itself against any threat or combination of threats.
- “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.”
Palestinian issue: Today President Biden is visiting a hospital in East Jerusalem, where he is expected to announce an increase in US aid.
- He will then meet Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
- In part of the Jerusalem Declaration, signed yesterday, President Biden reaffirmed “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. The United States stands ready to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and regional stakeholders toward that goal. The leaders also affirm their shared commitment to initiatives that strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life of Palestinians.”
- Biden’s meeting with Abbas is expected to lead to several announcements of economic benefits for the Palestinians, including the introduction of 4G cellular network to the West Bank and Gaza.
- Among other measures, Israel is considering allowing West Bank Palestinians to travel abroad from Ramon International Airport near Eilat. The plan would call for Palestinians to travel to the airport via a secure passageway. Kan News suggested that the deal is contingent on the PA dropping their charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Israel – Saudi Arabia: President Biden flies directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia later today. There is optimism of steps being taken towards normalisation.
- Saudi Arabia’s Civil Aviation Authority announced that they will open its airspace to planes from all carriers, including Israeli airlines.
- Israel has also given formal approval yesterday to the agreement with the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt regarding two uninhabited islands Tiran and Sanafir at the bottom of the Red Sea. The final hurdle was Israeli consenting to the international observers moving to a new location on the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and replacing them with cameras on the island. The US will also continue to ensure freedom of navigation for Israeli ships in the Straits of Tiran.
Inaugural meeting of new international forum: Also yesterday, Prime Minister Lapid and President Biden participated in virtual meeting of the I2U2 together with the President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.
- The meeting focused on mutual economic cooperation for the benefit of the entire region in many fields, including infrastructure, medicine, food security challenges, and energy.
- The leaders announced the establishment a $2 billion food corridor between India and the UAE using Israeli technology and capabilities.
- They also decided to start a $300 million 300-megawatt wind and solar energy storage project in India using Israeli, Emirati and US technologies.
Looking ahead: Despite the public warmth, there were apparently no concrete steps in the US toughening its posture towards Iran.
- There is concern that Iran or its proxies will look to provoke Israel to send a message following Biden’s visit.
- On Monday, US General Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) will visit Israel. The visit is expected to focus on promoting a regional air defence alliance between Israel and Arab allies.