President Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday to begin a trip to the Middle East that his administration hopes will strengthen US-regional ties but may yield limited progress on American priorities.
“The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone-deep,” Mr. Biden said shortly after landing at Ben Gurion Airport for his tenth visit to Israel during his decades-long political career. His first trip to Israel as president.
“We’re simply happy to see you, Mr. President, the simple, genuine joy of seeing a good friend again,” Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, said.
The four-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was framed by US officials as an opportunity to strengthen ties and promote stability, including by bringing the two countries he is visiting closer together, while countering Iranian threats. However, the president’s allies are concerned that he will leave without making significant progress on energy or human-rights issues, returning largely empty-handed to the United States, where he is struggling with low approval ratings and high prices ahead of the midterm elections.
In recent days, White House officials have sought to temper expectations for the trip, claiming that reaching agreements to address high energy prices and restore normal relations between Israel and countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia could take months or longer.
Mr. Biden intends to “demonstrate material progress” on issues such as regional security during the trip, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, but he declined to explain how the administration defines success. Mr. Sullivan went on to say that the president will talk about ensuring an adequate supply of energy in global markets that is “sustainable over time, which means having spare capacity as part of the equation.”
Mr. Biden took office promising a sustained focus on China, but Russia’s war in Ukraine has exacerbated oil price increases, shifting attention to the Middle East, which the president had not prioritized in his foreign policy. Mr. Biden, who promised during his presidential campaign to make Saudi Arabia a pariah on the world stage, has increasingly focused his attention on the kingdom, which wields significant influence over global oil markets, which have risen in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.
Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet with Mr. Lapid, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s opposition leader, on the first leg of his trip. On Wednesday, he was briefed on Israel’s missile defense capabilities and paid a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. He will take part in a virtual meeting with the leaders of Israel, India, and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
According to a US official, the Biden administration will announce new talks between the US and Israel to co-develop the Iron Beam, an experimental laser system envisioned as a deterrent against Iran-backed attacks. According to officials familiar with the situation, Mr. Biden plans to sign a joint US-Israel declaration this week highlighting the two countries’ strategic partnership. According to Israeli officials, this includes a commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, strengthening regional cooperation, and ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
Some Arab nations involved in the talks have expressed reservations about the partnership, according to people familiar with the situation. Though Israel is cooperating with Arab countries more closely than ever before, the countries involved in the talks have diverse and often conflicting interests, and key players such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not have official relations with Israel.
Israeli officials expressed hope that the actions taken during Mr. Biden’s visit will begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
According to people familiar with the discussions, one of the trip’s signature announcements is expected to be the transfer of two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, a long-awaited deal that could include steps toward Riyadh establishing formal ties with Israel.
Mr. Biden will be the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah, the kingdom’s second biggest city after the capital, marking a rare direct flight between the two countries. Other U.S. presidents to have flown directly between the two countries include Donald Trump, who traveled from Riyadh to Israel.