Israel is rolling out the red carpet to greet US President Joe Biden on Wednesday afternoon, amid hopes that the visit – his first as president and 10th since 1973 – will be smooth, successful and peaceful.
Biden, a close friend and strong ally of Israel and the Jewish people, will be warmly welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog. During his stay, he will also hold talks with a range of political figures, from Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although cabinet ministers, MKs and other dignitaries have been invited to the airport ceremony, they were informed that due to scheduling pressures, the COVID-19 pandemic and the warm weather, the American president will not shake hands with invited guests, and there will be no opportunity for personal photographs.
The Defense Ministry announced yesterday that it had completed the preparations for Biden’s arrival, including the construction of a secure compound to accommodate the hundreds of participants at the ceremony. The designated area includes a red carpet, some 150 seats, stages for journalists, photographers and a stage for speeches.
The Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) has planned to put on a display for the president of multiple Israeli defense systems, including the Arrow, David’s Sling, Iron Dome and Iron Beam. This is significant because Israel has asked the US to grant it an additional $500 million in funding for Iron Dome replacement batteries after last year’s Gaza war.
The GPO, which is operating an international press center at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Cultural and Conference Center in Jerusalem, has set up a special mini-site devoted to the presidential visit that will include live broadcasts from all locations for the hundreds of Israeli and foreign journalists covering the trip.
Although his schedule is kept under wraps and continually updated for security reasons, Biden is expected to stay at the King David Hotel, visit Yad Vashem and the Augusta Victoria Hospital as well as attend the opening of the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem before traveling to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and departing for Saudi Arabia on Friday.
Ahead of the trip, Lapid sent a clear signal by making the first call by an Israeli prime minister to Abbas in more than five years.
Biden and the "minefield of Israeli politics"
It is not going to be easy for Biden to negotiate the minefield of Israeli politics as the campaigns heat up ahead of the election on November 1, particularly when it comes to issues such as reopening the US consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem, new Israeli construction in settlements, US support for a two-state solution and the ongoing investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
He will also be firmly challenged by Israeli officials on his determination to seal a new nuclear deal with Iran, which Israelis across the political spectrum oppose.
Biden is set to make an announcement on US efforts to boost military coordination and integrate regional air defenses to better protect Israel and other states in the Middle East from Iranian missiles. He is also expected to make progress toward normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia following the 2020 Abraham Accords that saw the Jewish state establish ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and later Morocco and Sudan under the auspices of the US.
Biden wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend that his direct flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia would be a small symbol of “budding relations and steps toward normalization” between the Jewish state and the Arab world.
Biden will meet an Israel that is politically divided, polarized and still facing great challenges. This is a unique opportunity for our leaders to present those challenges. Despite the hardships caused by the capital being virtually shut down for the visit, Israelis should open their arms for the president. The next two days will demonstrate the special relationship between Israel and the US, as the country welcomes one of its biggest supporters, Joe Biden.