A visit to Israel by an American president is always a reason to celebrate, regardless of who that president might be. These visits take precedence over any disputes and demonstrate the strength of our bilateral ties and how important each country is to the other.
Is this regard, President Joe Biden is no different from his predecessors. He may be older than they were and involved in a complicated domestic political situation, but he’s still the most important person in the world. Because of that, the dismissals of his visit voiced in Israel over the past few days are mistaken. Until Biden’s last day in the White House, all eyes will be on him, and what he says matters.
Beyond that, Biden is pro-Israel and has defined himself as a Zionist. This is his tenth visit to Israel, and despite all the disagreements between the two countries, he remains faithful, like his predecessors, to Israel’s existence, security and well-being. His 18 months in office have expressed this in a multitude of ways, from special defense aid for Iron Dome to bolstered cooperation on intelligence, operations and technology.
The high point of Biden’s Middle East visit will be Saudi Arabia, but his decision to visit Israel first is a clear signal to the Shiite axis, Russia and more moderate players that, for Washington, Jerusalem comes first. This powerful U.S.-Israel alliance, which was enshrined in a joint declaration on Thursday, is a major component of Israel’s national security. The fact that a Democratic president is confirming it is of vital importance given the processes of radicalization taking place in the United States and internationally.
Still, make no mistake. Biden doesn’t work for Israel. He works with it. His foremost interests are those of the United States. This is the root of our differences on the Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear program. During his trip, Biden will try to make progress, as he sees it, on the former, if only to make a show of getting a peace process moving. Israel will lobby on the latter in an attempt to block or make significant improvements to a new Iran nuclear deal. One can cautiously say that both are doomed to fail. Israel and the Palestinians won’t move ahead on anything for the foreseeable future, and the Biden administration will remain intent on the most problematic solution to the Iran issue.
This doesn’t mean that Israel should give up on its attempt to exert influence over the ongoing nuclear talks. Israel is backed by its friends and partners in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East. Moreover, Iran is not just an Israeli problem or even a regional problem; it is a global problem. Iran’s decision to sell attack drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war is yet more proof of its place in the axis of evil. If the Americans didn’t realize this before, they will have to now. Biden’s desire for increased Middle East oil output—mainly from the Saudis—in order to bring down prices should be leveraged in order to make gains on the Iranian issue.
Anyone who hopes that Biden’s visit will bring a major breakthrough with the Saudis on normalization will be disappointed. The Americans want it, the Israelis want it, but the Saudis still aren’t ready for it. It will take time. But what is happening now—the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi decision to allow Israeli flights to use its airspace—is major progress, achieved through a mountain of contacts, meetings and secret deals.
Biden’s visit will have positive ramifications on ties with Saudi Arabia and other countries. The Americans are working to establish a regional intelligence-operational-technological front, with Israel at its center. CENTCOM and the American diplomatic apparatus are working overtime on it, and in the next few days, the world will see the image Washington wants to project: The axis of evil, which runs through Moscow, Tehran, and their allies, versus the good guys, with the US and Israel leading the way along with the sane Middle East nations.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.
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