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President Biden reconfirms his iron-clad commitment to Israel

What happened: US President Biden hosted outgoing President Reuven Rivlin in the White House last night.

  • At the start of the meeting, President Biden reiterated that his “commitment to Israel is iron-clad. It’s real, it’s something that I always say is fundamental and this includes an unwavering commitment to your self-defence. Today we are going to be discussing a broad range of topics, including Iran. What I can say to you is Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch. I directed last night’s air strikes, targeting sites used by Iranian-backed militia groups responsible for recent attacks on US personnel in Iraq”.
  • President Biden added: “The US fully supports normalisation of relations between Israel and Middle Eastern countries that you are making headway on and in Africa as well and beyond. This is important progress, and we are really looking forward to building back a wider plot of peace and stability.”
  • President Rivlin said to President Biden: “Israel has no greater friend and ally than the United States of America. You are our best friends and the bonds between the people of Israel and the people of America have always been based on the understanding that we share values of democracy and liberalism. Because of that, we may from time to time hold discussions on issues on which we do not agree.”
  • During their meeting, they discussed the US commitment to Israel’s national security and the US defence package to Israel in wake of the recent conflict with Hamas. The president thanked Biden for his military and diplomatic support, and for his personal involvement during the Gaza conflict.
  • On the Iranian nuclear threat, President Rivlin emphasised that this was the “gravest strategic threat faced by the free world and that Iran’s policy, particularly after the recent elections, is dangerous and extremist”.
  • Regarding the Palestinians, President Rivlin said that building confidence and trust was a condition for a diplomatic process and that moving the conflict to the International Criminal Court and to the UN would be destructive to relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • Rivlin said that Israel attaches great importance to strengthening the Palestinian Authority, partly because of the threat posed by Hamas. Rivlin also stressed that the rehabilitation of Gaza would only be possible once the issue of Israel’s missing soldiers and civilians, held by Hamas, was resolved.
  • Rivlin was accompanied by his daughter Anat, who brought a message from her young daughters, to thank President Biden for his efforts to save the planet and for what he is doing regarding climate change.
  • Following the meeting Rivlin met Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Members of Congress.
  • Pelosi told Rivlin: “Congressional support for Israel has always been bipartisan, as you hoped, and will continue to be so, because of the values we share and the security concerns we have in common.”
  • During his visit to Washington, the president also met with the Ambassador of the UAE, Yousef Al Otaiba, who played a key role in advancing the Abraham Accords. The president thanked him and said he would do everything he could to widen the circle of peace.

Context: President Rivlin was invited to the White House as a farewell visit, as he completes the seven-year term as President.

  • The invitation came from President Biden, who wished to express his thanks for “advancing partnership, hope and understanding within the State of Israel and with its neighbours”.
  • They have known each other for 50 years. Rivlin first met Biden in 1971 when he visited Israel as a young Senator. Rivlin took Biden on a tour of Jerusalem.
  • Although the presidency in Israel is primarily a ceremonial role, Rivlin came briefed on Iran as the most pressing security issue.
  • His visit follows IDF Chief of Staff Kohavi’s visit last week, who met with senior US security officials in the White House and Pentagon.
  • President Rivlin stressed Israel’s position that the Iranian nuclear deal, as it currently stands, endangers the State of Israel. He added his concern about Iranian military build-up on Israel’s borders, Hezbollah’s arming with precision-guided missiles and Hamas’s strengthening in Gaza.
  • It is understood that Rivlin expressed concern that the Arab front against Iran has been weakened and that Israel is worried countries which until recently have been openly opposed to Iran would now try to forge closer ties with it if they felt that the US administration were scaling back its presence in the region.
  • Among the requests, Rivlin asked for US military assistance, including precision-guided munitions that reduced the danger to civilians as well as replacing weapons systems that had become outdated.
  • On the Palestinian issue, Biden told Rivlin that the US supports the two-state solution and that his administration believes Israel should take steps to achieve stability and calm in the Gaza Strip.

Looking ahead: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is visiting the UAE today where he will inaugurate the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai.

  • RivIin will be succeeded by incoming President Isaac Herzog, who will be sworn in on July 7.
  • Following the meeting yesterday, the White House announced that President Biden has invited Prime Minister Bennett to visit Washington soon, probably within the next few weeks.

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