Lapid: Biden will visit Israel even if coalition collapses

“The President’s relationship with Israel is way more important, significant and long-lasting than any political event,” said Lapid.

 US President Joe Biden gestures as he boards Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base, in New Castle, Delaware, US, April 25, 2022. (photo credit: TASOS KATOPODIS/ REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden gestures as he boards Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base, in New Castle, Delaware, US, April 25, 2022.
(photo credit: TASOS KATOPODIS/ REUTERS)

US President Joe Biden will visit Israel regardless of the government’s instability, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a briefing on Wednesday.

Biden's visit

Asked if he is confident the coalition will still be standing when Biden is expected to arrive in Israel on July 13, Lapid said: “I don’t know if I’m confident, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it will… I’m not a political commentator, but I think this government is going to be there to welcome [Biden] on the red carpet.”

Lapid said he is certain “the president will be here no matter what.”

“The president’s relationship with Israel is way more important, significant and long-lasting than any political event,” Lapid said. “The US is our greatest ally and the most important partnership and friendship we have.”

“The President’s relationship with Israel is way more important, significant and long-lasting than any political event.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid
 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a weekly cabinet meeting, June 12, 2022 (credit: Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a weekly cabinet meeting, June 12, 2022 (credit: Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool)

In light of Biden’s plan to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia and the Prime Minister’s Office statement that Biden will announce steps bringing Israel closer to its neighbors in the Middle East, Lapid said he will not discuss whether Israel and Saudi Arabia are in talks; he said both have an interest in stopping the Iranian threat and that all countries facing that challenge should work together.

As for the reports that Israel and Saudi Arabia agreed on security arrangements in the Straits of Tiran in exchange for flyover rights for Israeli airlines, Lapid said, “I don’t want to steal the show from the president.”

Still, he added that the reports “are not without some base. Everyone is looking at Saudi Arabia these days for a reason.”

Lapid denied reports that an Israeli official will be joining Biden on his flight to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is Israel’s primary goal for further normalizations with Arab and Muslim states, Lapid said, also mentioning Indonesia.

“There won’t be a quantum leap. We’ll work, work, work and have little improvements that, in the end, will create a special peace,” he said. “Eventually, what we want is to have a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, like any other country in the region. Israel is reaching out to anyone, at any time, to have a long-lasting sustainable peace.”

Lapid said that Biden’s visit, going from Jerusalem to Riyadh, is part of what Israel has called the “regional architecture.”

Biden and Iran

“We are trying to put Iran under siege security- and policy-wise because Iran is a threat to the entire region, not only to Israel,” Lapid said. “Iran’s nuclear program is a global threat, not just an Israeli threat. It’s existential to us, but it will throw the entire Middle East and the rest of the world into a new arms race. It is in nobody’s interest. All measures being taken in the region are considered part of this effort.”

“I’m not sure the enemy of my enemy is always my friend, but the enemy of my enemy is someone I can consider working with,” he added.

When it comes to the Iran deal, Israel is advocating for its partners to bring it to the UN Security Council to start bringing back sanctions on the Islamic Republic, what is known as SnapBack.

“If there is no Iran Deal soon, it has to happen,” Lapid said. “Take the last [International Atomic Energy Agency] report. It shows they lied. And Iranians are removing cameras from nuclear sites… The UNSC’s tool is SnapBack. We want them to use it. It’s an effective tool… that creates real pressure on them.”

Lapid said that the UK is “an intensive partner in presenting this” as the next step.

The UK Embassy in Israel, however, said that “our priority remains securing a return to the deal. The UK works closely with Israel and regional partners and shares concerns about Iran’s behavior.”

Lapid said that Israel has “no better partner than the Americans” in trying to isolate Iran.

“We have a fundamental disagreement” with the US about the Iran deal, Lapid said. “But we managed to build influence about the IAEA probes and [the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Foreign Terrorist Organization designation] without harming Israel’s ability to act against Iran.”

Regional concerns

Lapid also expressed concern about Israelis continuing to visit Turkey, even though the National Security Council elevated its travel warning to the highest level this week amid a threat by Iranians against Israelis in Istanbul.

“If someone will be kidnapped or killed in Istanbul, I don’t think his family will be understanding of the fact that he decided to ignore the warning,” Lapid said. “It will become the government’s problem. We take care of our own, but people need to be careful and take the warning seriously.”

When asked what evidence there is of a threat, Lapid said that the warnings are based on Israeli and Turkish intelligence and they are limited in what can be shared publicly.

In the briefing, Lapid also touted improved ties between Israel and the EU and said that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to renew the EU-Israel Association Council in her meeting with him on Monday. The council is meant to improve relations and cooperation between the countries, and has not convened since 2013; doing so would require unanimity between EU member states.

One step Israel took that Lapid said helped its relations with Europe was to improve its dialogue with Green Parties on matters such as renewable energy. In addition, he said, European countries have expressed appreciation for Israeli humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Lapid also commented on the EU restoring full funding to the Palestinian Authority without any new conditions, despite Brussels-sponsored research showing rampant antisemitism and incitement to violence against Israel in Palestinian textbooks.

“It’s shameful, and the fact that they don’t condition the aid on removing incitement perpetuates the cycle of hate,” Lapid said. “They are raising a generation to hate. We have made our opinion very clear. We are angry and will continue to express that in every forum.”