Biden visits Israel on first Middle East tour as US president

1. Biden MidEast
US President Joe Biden delivers a statement upon his arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, on July 13, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — US President Joe Biden on Wednesday kicked off a Middle East tour in Israel where both sides vowed to deepen Israel’s integration in the region as they face their common foe Iran.اضافة اعلان

Biden — whose first regional visit since taking office will also bring him to Saudi Arabia — pledged strong backing for Israel, which has forged ties with several Arab states in recent years and hopes to do so with Riyadh as well.

“We’ll continue to advance Israel’s integration into the region,” Biden said after Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

“I’m proud to say that our relationship with the state of Israel is deeper and stronger in my view than it’s ever been. With this visit, we’re strengthening our connections even further,” the president said.

Israel’s caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid said that “we will discuss building a new security and economy architecture with the nations of the Middle East”, following US-brokered accords in 2020 with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.

“And we will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear program,” he added, amid ongoing efforts by world powers to salvage the frayed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, under then-president Donald Trump, and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday will be the major focus of the tour, and is seen as part of efforts to stabilize oil markets rattled by the war in Ukraine, through a re-engagement with a long-time key US strategic ally and major energy supplier.

Air Force One will make a first direct flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia amid efforts to build ties between Israel and the conservative Gulf kingdom, which does not recognize Israel’s existence.

Palestinian anger

After Biden landed, Israel’s military showed him its new Iron Beam defense system, an anti-drone laser it claims is crucial to countering Iran’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Israel insists it will do whatever is necessary to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and remains staunchly opposed to a restoration of the 2015 deal that gave Tehran sanctions relief.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi warned earlier Wednesday that if Biden’s goal on the trip was to bolster Israel’s security, his “efforts will not create security for the Zionists in any way”.

After the Israeli military showcase, the US presidential motorcade headed to Jerusalem, where Biden visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, meeting with survivors of the Nazi genocide and inscribing a note that read: “We must never, ever, forget, because hate is never defeated.”

Israel has raised 1,000 flags across Jerusalem to welcome the US leader, who has not reversed former president Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize the city its capital.

Biden, 79, will also meet Palestinian leaders angered by what they describe as Washington’s failure to curb Israeli aggression.

Palestinians accuse Biden of failing to make good on his pledge to restore the US as an honest broker in the conflict.

‘Two-state solution’

“We only hear empty words and no results,” said Jibril Rajoub, a leader of the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In remarks to Israeli officials at the airport, Biden emphasized his continued backing for Palestinian statehood.

“A two-state solution,” he said, remains “the best way to ensure” a prosperous future “for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

But there are no expectations of a new US peace push, with Israel still mired in political gridlock ahead of a November 1 election, the fifth in less than four years.

US-Palestinian ties have been strained by the May killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

The UN has concluded the Palestinian-American journalist was killed by Israeli fire. Washington has agreed this was likely, but also said there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Abu Akleh’s niece Lina told AFP Wednesday that the family remains “outraged” over Washington’s struggles to push for Israeli accountability.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is travelling with Biden, on Wednesday invited Abu Akleh’s relatives for talks in Washington, but Lina Abu Akleh told AFP the family’s request to meet American officials in Jerusalem had not yet been answered.

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