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How Concerned is President Biden with Israel and the Middle East?

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Key Takeaways

  • President Biden has yet to reach out to Israel.
  • Biden hasn’t reached out to any Middle Eastern leaders.
  • How should the rest of the world view this decision?

As of last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has yet to receive a call from President Biden. We’re all familiar with Will Rogers’ famous quote, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This statement is just as true with diplomatic relationships as it is with more personal ones. 

This plays a significant role on why the first few weeks of a new administration are vital. They are used to establish the tone and priorities of a newly elected President. A tone is set, creating a first impression the administration will carry. As time goes by, these first impressions can be challenging, almost impossible to change.

Israel’s first impressions of former President Barack Obama were negative for the most part. In Obama’s first 16 weeks as President of the United States, he traveled to Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Israel was bypassed on each of the trips. This was different from the relationship the previous administration had with Israel. Foreign policy went under a significant readjustment with the Obama administration. 

With President Trump, positive first impressions were felt right away by Israel. Trump’s third call to a foreign leader was made to Prime Minister Netanyahu. This was a clear sign the Trump administration wanted a different relationship with Israel and the United States than the one created with President Obama. In February of 2017, there was much for the two administrations to look forward to. 

Why Hasn’t Biden Called?

There might be several valid reasons why President Biden has reached out to more than 10 other leaders and has held off making a call to Israel. Biden has a lot going on right now, on top of everything with COVID-19. There is still plenty of racial tension in the US. There’s a lot needing attention concerning both Russia and China at the moment. The Biden administration could simply view the Middle East as one of their last priorities. Along with Netanyahu, Biden has yet to reach out to any other Middle Eastern leader. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press statement with the visiting President of Cyprus, after their meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on February 14, 2021. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Also, Israel is now less than a month away from its own election. Biden could be doing everything possible to not appear as taking a side or favor a campaign. On top of this, many countries in the West simply see Israel as being too sensitive. Maybe, President Biden simply hasn’t had time, and the Israeli Prime Minister is making something out of nothing. As long as President Biden calls, who cares if it was the third call he made or will be the 100th?

Keep in mind what I mentioned earlier. You know, Will Rogers and stuff. This is the only chance Biden has to make a first impression with Israel, and the Middle East, for that matter. Both Israel and many other countries view Biden’s lack of interest as a snub. He’s making sure they’re aware of their place on his list of priorities. 

More than Just a Call

There’s far more going on than Joe Biden simply refusing to call Prime Minister Netanyahu. Many officials in Israel have viewed Biden’s signals as confusing as a teenage boy trying to plan a relationship. While some of Biden’s actions have been very positive, just as many have been very alarming. 

Israeli officials are quick to say that, no, they don’t believe the Biden administration is anti-Israeli. Still, Rob Malley, Biden’s pick to be his man with Iran, could cause many problems for Israel. 

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Bret Stephens, former editor-in-chief with Jerusalem Post and current columnist with the New York Times, said last week, “Those familiar with Malley’s career know that he is highly intelligent, highly well versed in the region, but someone whose judgments, for instance, his counsel to Obama, in the last four years of the Obama administration, to essentially go soft on Bashar Assad, proved to be both a strategic and humanitarian disaster with repercussions that have extended for some time.

Of everything that both has or hasn’t happened yet, one of the most troubling steps has been deciding to reverse the decision made by Mike Pompeo designating the Houthis in Yemen as a “terrorist organization.”

Just two days following the reversal of the policy, there was a drone attack on a Saudi airport the Houthis took responsibility for. Say whatever you want about Trump and his many mistakes, the Middle East has been a much safer place since January of 2017. That is something Israeli officials are hoping doesn’t change any time soon. President Biden simply doesn’t appear to be concerned with “over there.”

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