After almost a month in office, US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House confirmed. Netanyahu described the hour-long conversation as friendly and warm.
Tweeting in Hebrew, Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that he had spoken with Biden, saying they discussed the “strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” the “Iranian threat,” and challenges in the Middle East, among other things.
ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו שוחח הערב עם נשיא ארה”ב ג’ו ביידן.השיחה הייתה ידידותית וחמה ביותר ונמשכה כשעה. שני המנהיגים ציינו את הקשר האישי רב השנים ביניהם ואמרו שיפעלו יחד להמשך חיזוק הברית האיתנה בין ישראל לארה”ב pic.twitter.com/8LolsBhi0r
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) February 17, 2021
The Israeli PM also noted the “long-standing personal connection” with the current US president, who spent decades in the Senate and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice-president.
Biden congratulated him on his leadership in the fight against Covid-19 in Israel and the two exchanged views on the ways of fighting against the virus, Netanyahu added.
A readout provided by the White House later in the day did not mention the virus, but said Biden had “affirmed his personal history of steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and conveyed his intent to strengthen all aspects of the US-Israel partnership, including our strong defense cooperation.”
The US president also expressed support for “the recent normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” in reference to the Abraham Accords negotiated by the Trump administration last year, without mentioning them by name.
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Since taking office on January 20, Biden has called the leaders of Russia, China, Mexico, Britain, India, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, but not Netanyahu – prompting US and international media to wonder if Israel, often described as Washington’s closest ally, may have fallen from grace.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last Friday the absence of a call was “not an intentional diss” but due to the new administration getting things up and running, as she faced increasingly hostile questions about it from a normally friendly press.
A former Israeli consul in New York interpreted the lack of a call as a “clear sign of displeasure” from the Biden administration, noting that the Democrats have perceived Netanyahu as “almost a card-carrying member of the Republican Party.”
During his term in office, President Donald Trump had moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights and negotiated the ‘Abraham Accords’ between the Jewish state and Bahrain, the UAE and Sudan. Netanyahu’s relationship with the Obama administration became downright frosty in 2015, after the US negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran against his objections, and the State Department donated to his opposition.
1) “You have this incredibly organized pro-Israel community that is very accustomed to having access in the White House, in Congress, at the State Department. It’s kind of taken as granted, as given, that that’s going to be the way things are done.”https://t.co/chkPA4MNAv
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) February 17, 2021
The Biden-Netanyahu call came on the same day as the podcast appearance of Obama adviser Ben Rhodes, in which he criticized the “incredibly organized pro-Israel community that is very accustomed to having access in the White House, in Congress, at the State Department,” and Netanyahu’s ability to “gin up the right-wing, pro-Likud media in the United States, which is pretty vast.”
The Israeli PM is facing another snap election in March, after the coalition government between his Likud party and the opposition Blue and White collapsed in December 2020. It will be the fourth election in Israel over the course of two years, as no single party or bloc has been capable of maintaining a parliamentary majority.
Meanwhile, Biden has had Vice President Kamala Harris handle some of the calls with foreign leaders.