On Wednesday, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States under what seems to be turning into an unprecedented amount of security.
The US Capitol, after the violent breach on January 6, is cordoned off by unscalable fences, roads are blocked and National Guardsmen are camped out in the halls of Congress and nearby office buildings. Reports of possible violence across the 50 states prompted even Donald Trump to release a video on Thursday calling for calm.
As a close ally, Israel’s interest is to see a peaceful transition of power without violence that could further undermine and weaken America’s standing on the global stage. America has always served as a beacon of freedom, morality and democracy to the world. What happened at the US Capitol undermined that image. Biden is hoping to enact a process of healing by putting aside the violent rhetoric and making sure that the facts of the November election are finally fully recognized by Trump and his base.
Israel’s interest is seeing an America that is politically stable, strong and which can once again project its values and power around the world. When America is strong, Israel is strong, and when America deters enemies that helps Israel deters enemies.
This is the case no matter who the president is or which party is in control of the House of Representatives or the Senate. Israel has always taken pride in being an ally to Republican and Democratic administrations. Support of Israel has always received support from across the aisle. Even in times of disagreements that led to a colder or tenser relationship, Israel always had who to lean on in Washington DC.
Israel’s strategy right now needs to be finding ways to work with the new administration. It is no secret that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted Donald Trump to win reelection and was hoping to secure more benefits from the Trump administration over the next four years, possibly even including annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Biden’s administration will include many familiar faces from president Barack Obama’s administration including officials who do not remember Netanyahu fondly, mostly for the way he fought against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which many of them helped reach. This includes incoming secretary of state Antony Blinken, his incoming deputy Wendy Sherman, incoming national security advisor Jake Sullivan and of course, John Kerry.
For now, all indications are that Israel is trying to work with the new administration and avoid public spats like the ones that it had with Obama. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen was in Washington last week and reportedly held talks with some of the incoming Biden officials.
Israel, while of course always required to put its national security needs first, should be sensitive to the change in America. Its needs will not be at the top of Biden’s list of priorities which will be dominated by the continued spread of COVID-19, the slow vaccine rollout and the economic crisis that continues to roil the country.
What complicates the situation even more is a general desire among Democrats to overturn Trump’s policies. Israel will need to hope that effort does not include watering down ties with the Jewish state.
For Israel, this means not provoking the new administration and proceeding with caution when it comes to settlement construction, trying to work first with the administration on setting policy on Iran and being understanding of Biden’s needs.
Unfortunately, all this will be happening at a time when Israel is undergoing political instability and is heading to a fourth election in two years, on March 23.
This creates the possibility that the Netanyahu-led Likud will take steps and use rhetoric meant to help itself politically ahead of the election to gain votes but that could be detrimental to forging strong bonds with the incoming US administration and its top officials.
This is a delicate time for America. Israel needs to be careful and keep its eye on the prime objective – preserving strong relations with a new American administration.