Bennett’s visit comes at a challenging time politically and strategically.
U.S. President Joe Biden is under domestic pressure following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the speedy Taliban takeover of the country.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett left Tuesday on his first diplomatic visit to Washington at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.
Upon his departure, he made the following remarks to the media: ‘’I am now leaving for Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden, an old and true friend of the State of Israel.’’
‘’On Wednesday, I intend to also meet senior administration officials including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.’’
He added, ‘’there is a new administration in the US and a new government in Israel, and I am bringing with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of cooperation, which rests on the special and long-standing connection between the two countries.’’
‘’We will deal with many fronts, especially the Iranian front, and especially the jump in the Iranian nuclear program over the past two or three years. In particular, we will discuss the plan to block this program,’’ he said.
He added: ‘’We will also deal with several actions to strengthen the Israeli military superiority. Alongside this, we will also deal with the spheres of high-tech, the economy, innovation, the climate crisis that disturbs us all and – of course – the fight against the coronavirus.’’
The Biden-Bennett meeting will build on recent discussions between senior officials of the two countries.
Bennett’s visit comes at a challenging time politically and strategically. Heading a coalition government comprising many parties spanning left and right, Bennett has a razor-thin parliamentary majority, which is struggling to bring the COVID Delta variant under control.
Israel’s strategic position has been strengthened by the Abraham Accords, signed a year ago, which have led to a warming of relations with Bahrain, the UAE, and Morocco. Yet the government is also facing a complex security situation: rockets have been fired by both Palestinian factions and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Iran has escalated its aggression on the high seas, most recently with a UAV attack on a vessel owned by an Israeli shipping magnate. The Gaza border is heating up, with violent demonstrations over the weekend and an Israeli soldier critically injured by Hamas fire. Lebanon is facing a severe social and economic crisis, and is expecting an Iranian tanker purportedly carrying fuel but also potentially sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah.
Biden too is under domestic pressure following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the speedy Taliban takeover of the country.
The U.S. President has historically been a strong supporter of Israel. He famously boasts about having met all Prime Ministers since Golda Meir and in 2014, described support for a secure and democratic Israel as “meeting a moral obligation” and a “strategic necessity”.
The President has also rejected the policies of the progressive wing in the Democratic party who have called for conditioning US military aid to Israel.
But Israel has increasingly become a wedge domestic issue, with Democrats angry at former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what they saw as his disrespect towards former President Barack Obama, as well as his cosying up to former President Donald Trump.
Despite Bennett’s right-wing credentials, his government is consciously designing policy towards America in contrast to Netanyahu’s sometimes partisan and confrontational approach. The Prime Minister comes to Washington looking to restore bipartisan support and hoping to keep policy disagreements private and ‘’between friends.’’
Beyond the expected warm welcome, the leaders will focus on crucial foreign policy issues. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the tête-a-tête would include “critical issues related to regional and global security, including Iran” and “efforts to advance peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians and the importance of working towards a more peaceful and secure future for the region”.
While Bennett will likely seek to place Iran front and centre, Biden will be at pains to raise the Palestinian issue and the need to keep open the window for a two-state solution.