Israel’s strategic ties with the US are a top priority, new FM says

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has already spoken with US Ambassador Tom Nides and will speak with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later today.

Likud MK Eli Cohen Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Likud MK Eli Cohen Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Maintaining Israel’s relationship with the United States is a top strategic priority, newly inaugurated Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when the two men spoke on Monday.

"I told him the strategic relationship with the US is our top priority and that we will continue to strengthen the special bond between the two countries," Cohen later tweeted.

"I told him the strategic relationship with the US is our top priority and that we will continue to strengthen the special bond between the two countries."

Eli Cohen

It was Cohen's first conversation with Blinken since he was sworn into office on Thursday, replacing Yair Lapid who had served as both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

"We spoke among other things about the importance of expanding the Abraham Accord and our joint activity to prevent a nuclear Iran," Cohen said. 

Blinken underscored to Cohen "the United States’ abiding commitment to the US-Israel partnership and to Israel’s security" and spoke of the importance of promoting "values that have been at the heart of the bilateral relationship for decades," according to the State Department.

Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during the swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during the swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

"The secretary emphasized the continued US commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability," the State Department added.

Cohen emphasized the severity with which he viewed the Palestinian Authority's pursuit of a United Nations General Assembly resolution, approved Friday night, that sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territory.

The United States had worked with Israel to thwart the text and had voted against it. Cohen and Blinken spoke even though the US government offices were closed due to the New Year.

Tensions set to rise between Netanyahu and Biden

Tensions are expected to rise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and the Biden administration specifically over issues of shared values and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States had worked with Israel to thwart the text and had voted against it.

Earlier in the day, Cohen spoke about the PA's "hypocritical drive" for an ICJ opinion, at the Foreign Ministry ceremony in Jerusalem to mark his entry into office.

“The Palestinians have rejected every single peace agreement offered to them,” Cohen said warning that the “Palestinian attempts to harm Israel will cost them and will distance resolution of the conflict.”

He also referenced the pending possibility that Israel could face war crimes suits before the International Criminal Court.

“Those that should be on trial are the Palestinian leaders,” Cohen said, as he referenced the Palestinian Authority policy of providing monthly stipends to Palestinian terrorists who have killed Jews and to their family members.

The Palestinian Authority is the only government “in the world that rewards those who murder Jews simply because they are Jews,” Cohen stated. 

“The international community must convey a clear message to the Palestinian leadership, ‘enough incitement in education and the media” and “stop financing murderers of Jews,” Cohen said.

He underscored America's importance for Israel.

“There is no substitute for Israel’s relations with the US,” Cohen said. “It is a strategic long-term partnership that is based first and foremost on shared values and interests,” Cohen emphasized, adding that he was already in conversation with US officials and had spoken with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

Cohen also promised to deepen ties with European countries, which are also expected to clash with this government. 

Europe’s security and energy challenges “position Israel as a key actor,” Cohen said, explaining that this is “an opportunity to deepen ties with European countries and to bolster them compared to past years.”

Israel plans to focus on ensuring there is an international front against Iran that exists alongside the IDF’s strengthening of its security capabilities to combat any scenario, he said.

“Israel must stop Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities in every way,” particularly given that the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program is no longer relevant, he said. 

“Iran does not only want to attain nuclear weapons it also has a long-range missile project and a drone project,” Cohen said adding that the Islamic Republic was internationally financed and is financing international terrorism.

“The international community must stop burying its head in the sand when it comes to Iran,” he said.

Cohen, who helped bring to fruition the US-brokered Abraham Accords under whose auspices Israel normalized ties with four countries, said that more such deals were on their way.

“The expansion of these agreements to other [Middle East] countries is not a question of if, but when,” he said, pointing to the economic and security advances of these agreements. 

Trade with Abraham Accord countries has already surpassed $10 billion a year, Cohen said. Next week, the said, Israel’s Foreign Ministry director-general will take part in a meeting in the United Arab Emirates and there will be a larger foreign minister summit of Accord countries in Morocco in March.

With respect to the Russian-Ukrainian war, Cohen said that Israel “will talk less,” adding that the Foreign Ministry will prepare a policy for the cabinet.

“Humanitarian aid to Ukraine will continue,” Cohen said, as he explained that he also planned to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Lastly, Cohen addressed the work dispute within the Foreign Ministry and the overall perception that the ministry has lost its role as a leading player in the country’s diplomatic relations.

The Foreign Ministry employees are a “national asset” for Israel, Cohen said. 

“I am well aware of the work dispute with the employees that has harmed the ministry’s ability to function. I can’t succeed without the employees and therefore I am committed to a just solution so that the dispute can be behind us,” Cohen said. 

Overall with respect to the ministry, he said that “what was in the last years will not be again. The Foreign Ministry will return to initiating and leading.”

This summer, he said, there will be a new round of diplomatic appointments.

"One thing is certain - no one will be appointed who does not recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state," Cohen emphasized.