By DMITRIY SHAPIRO
(JNS) – After delays as a result of terrorist attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. President Joe Biden managed to sit for two meetings at the White House on Friday, Aug. 27.
The first one started at 11:06 a.m., when the two leaders got to know each other, followed by a brief address to the media in the Oval Office just short of an hour later before starting another, expanded bilateral meeting where the pair was joined by members of their staff.
Bonding Over Trains
Biden said they spoke about issues and connected over their familiarity of the Amtrak train system between New York and Biden’s home city of Wilmington, Del., which Bennett used to frequent during his time as a businessman in the United States.
The two men had spoken on the phone the previous day after their original meeting was canceled. Sitting across from each other in front of the Oval Office fireplace, Biden first told the media about his morning meetings with his national security team on Afghanistan, which was the primary interest of the domestic media.
Biden then reported that they spoke of the ongoing pandemic, as well as vaccination booster shots, which Israel has begun providing for its citizens aged 60 years and older, or who have certain medical issues. Biden said the United States will likely start to offer the same as early as Sept. 20, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden also reiterated America’s firm commitment to Israel’s security, including his support for replenishing Israel’s supply of Iron Dome interceptor missiles.
The conversation invariably turned to Iran with Biden saying that Washing- ton is committed to preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, de- spite ongoing efforts to bring Iran back into compliance under the 2015 nuclear deal, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).“We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us,” said Biden. “But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”
Additional discussion, said the president, included how to expand developing ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which got a major jump-start with last year’s Abraham Accords; how to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians; and helping Israel fulfill the requirements to be added to the Visa Waiver Program.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you again for coming. The U.S. will always be there for Israel,” Biden told Bennett. “It’s an unshakable partnership between our two nations, and I have known every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir—gotten to know them fairly well—and I look forward to us establishing a strong personal relationship.”
Bennett then addressed the president in English, again repeating his condolences to the United States on behalf of the Israeli people.
“The American service members lost their lives while on a mission to save other people’s lives, and that’s the very definition of courage and sacrifice. May they rest in peace,” said Bennett. “Especially on this day, I want to be crystal-clear: Israel always stands together with the United States of America unequivocally. I also want to thank you for your warm words now in our private meeting, which attests to your support of the State of Israel, but that’s not new. It’s been decades, and you’ve always stood up for us, especially during tough times like a few months ago, when thousands of rockets were being shot on Israeli towns and cities. And that’s when friendship is really tested.”
Building The Future
Bennett said that he comes from Jerusalem, with a new spirit of good- will, hope, decency, honesty, unity and bipartisanship, reflected in his governing coalition that is made up of multiple, often opposing parties. “Yet we all share the deep passion to work together to build a better future for Israel,” he said.
Bennett outlined some of the challenges faced by the Jewish state, which he said is bordered by the terror groups ISIS, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad on its southern border, Hezbollah on its northern border and Iranian-backed militias all around it. “And all of them want to kill us—kill Israelis. They all want to annihilate the Jewish state,” he said. “And that’s why Israel always has to be overwhelmingly stronger than any of our enemies, and indeed, of all our enemies combined.”
Along those lines, he thanked Biden for supporting Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.
Bennett said that he was happy to hear Biden say it will never acquire a nuclear weapon, mentioning that there are other options to stop Iran if the diplomatic option that the United States supports does not work. “We’ve developed a comprehensive strategy that we’re going to be talking about with two goals. The first goal is to stop Iran on its regional aggression and start rolling it back into the box. And the second is to permanently keep Iran away from ever being able to break out a nuclear weapon,” he said, though he did not detail how this will be accomplished.
Bennet ended the press meeting by citing part of a Haftorah from the prophet Isaiah—first in Hebrew and then translated into English.
The two leaders did not answer any questions from the press, who were ushered out prior to the beginning of the expanded bilateral meeting.