President Joe Biden, center, welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
07-13-2022 CBN News Jerusalem Emily Jones
JERUSALEM, Israel – US President Joe Biden landed in Israel on Wednesday to kick off a four-day Mideast tour aimed a recalibrating America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, increasing oil production to ease gas prices and stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
Biden’s visit comes at a precarious time in the Middle East marked by a rapidly shifting political landscape in Israel, new regional alliances and the possibility of conflict.
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The president touched down at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by Israeli heads of state, including Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
“It’s an honor to once again stand with friends and visit the independent Jewish state of Israel,” Biden said in a speech after deplaning.
“Every chance to return to this great country where the ancient roots of the Jewish People date back to biblical times, is a blessing. Because the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep, it’s bone deep,” he said.
Although this is Biden’s tenth visit to Israel, he said his connection to the Holy Land began much earlier because he was “raised by a righteous Christian.”
Biden is welcomed by an Israeli government still in flux after four inconclusive elections in three and a half years. Israel’s political crisis will likely limit Biden’s ability to make long-lasting deals with a temporary, caretaker government already preparing for elections in the fall.
The most closely watched part of Biden’s journey is his visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday, which marks a major reversal of his campaign pledge to make the kingdom a “pariah” for its human rights abuses. Biden has justified his visit to Saudi Arabia as taking a pragmatic approach to foreign policy in the face of rising oil prices spurred on by the war in Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
It is unclear if Biden will be able to secure a pledge for more oil from Saudi Arabia. Even if he does, experts say such a commitment will do little to bring down oil costs because the kingdom already has a very limited spare capacity.
In Israel, excitement is growing over speculation that Saudi Arabia could soon normalize ties and join a growing network of Arab countries that have recently established relations with Israel thanks to the Abraham Accords.
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A senior Israeli official told reporters on Tuesday that there is an impending announcement regarding the “immediate materialization” of a normalization process between Israel and the Saudi kingdom, The Times of Israel reports. However, Biden officials have been far more cautious, saying that normalization would be a “long process.”
Still, Biden aims to present Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner in the Middle East, especially since the kingdom, like Israel and the US, sees Iran as a growing threat.
In addition to meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Wednesday and Thursday, Biden’s schedule includes a will tour of an Israeli missile defense installment at Ben Gurion International Airport and meeting US athletes competing in Jerusalem’s Maccabiah Games, which involves thousands of Jewish and Israeli athletes from around the world. He’s visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Wednesday.
During his visit, Biden will reaffirm America’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and become the first US president to visit East Jerusalem. The move is controversial because East Jerusalem is territory the Palestinians envision as the capital of a future state and land Israel has already claimed sovereignty over.
The US and Israel plan to issue a joint declaration on Thursday that is intended to serve as a roadmap for the countries’ relationship in the coming years, an unnamed official told The Associated Press.
The declaration will include a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program and a commitment by both countries to use “all elements of their national power against the Iranian nuclear threat,” according to one of the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Looming over the visit is the Biden administration’s beleaguered efforts to revive the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. The deal, signed in 2015 and abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018, limited Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. Talks to restore the deal have been stalled due to Biden refusing Iran’s demand to remove its Revolutionary Guards from a US terror blacklist.
Iran is believed to be closer than ever to a nuclear weapon, increasing concerns about an impending conflict or a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
“He’s going to face a region that’s long on problems with very few solutions,” Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AP.
Biden has spent much of the year focused on Europe, but his administration wants to send the message that the US still has interests in the Middle East.
“If we act now to create a peaceful and stable region, it will pay dividends for the American national interests and for the American people for years to come,” said Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser.
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