Wednesday, February 17, 2021


During those eight years [of President Bush], there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.
Obama, July 13, 2009

With each passing day, speculation is mounting as to what to make of Biden's failure to call Netanyahu.

Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post quotes sources that there is not really a big deal going on here and no snub of Netanyahu, per se.

She quotes sources that claim Biden simply does not want to be seen as interfering with Israel's upcoming March 23rd elections by allowing Netanyahu to make political hay out of a phone call from the president of the United States -- this according to 2 Israeli political parties who have been in contact with the Biden administration.

That explanation might be taking for granted the respect that Israelis are supposed to have for Biden.

But take into account that Israelis favored Trump over Biden in last year's election and it is just as likely that the impression will be that Biden is specifically trying to interfere and influence the upcoming election against Netanyahu by refusing to make that phone call.

The fact that Biden has not contacted any other leaders in the Middle East is supposed to support the claim that there is nothing personal in that phone call not being made. 

And in addition to the phone call, Biden's putting his selection of an ambassador to Israel on hold until after the Israeli elections -- because some of the people being considered, such as former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, have a poor relationship with Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Schanzer of The Foundation for Defense of Democracies points out that there is still plenty of communication going on between the US and Israel -- Secretary of State Blinken is speaking with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is speaking with Meir Ben Shabbat.

With talk of returning to the Iran Deal, it's all very well for Biden to indicate a return to Obama's foreign policy, but those days are not the kind that Israel is eager to return to.

Those 2 sources Lahav quotes both claim that Biden wants to convey the message that “there is no special relationship with Bibi.” That may be, but in the process, Biden is also conveying the message that there is no special relationship with Israel either.

And that is something that conflicts with the readiness of past presidents to quickly connect with Israel's leaders.
Schanzer gives a short history lesson, pointing out that
Clinton called Prime Minister Rabin on January 23 and met with him 2 months later. 
o  Bush called Prime Minister Sharon on February 6. 
o  Obama spoke with Olmert on January 2 (before his own inauguration) and then called Netanyahu on April 1, the day after Netanyahu was sworn in. 
o  Trump spoke with Netanyahu on January 22, and hosted him the following month. 
Abbas is no doubt relieved to see Biden push off making that phone call -- imagine what kind of message Hamas might see in this.

But there is more going on than just a delay in making a phone call.

Last Friday, during a White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked what seemed to be a straightforward question:
Can you please just give a broad sense of what the administration is trying to achieve in the Middle East? For example, does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?
Her response was a painful attempt to avoid giving an answer:
Well, you know, again, I think, we, there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes, one that we, I think confirmed an interagency meeting just last week to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East where we've only been here three and a half weeks.

And I think I'm going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give kind of a complete lay down of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.
If the Biden administration cannot even call Israel an ally when Biden is barely a month into his presidency, then we really are going to a very contentious 4 years.

And then there is the issue of some of the staff Biden has chosen for influential posts in his administration -- people about whom Mort Klein of ZOA has warned:
The new secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, has ‘publicly said the IRGC, the Iranian terror group, should never have been put on [the State Department’s] terror list, because that would “provoke” Iran’. Robert Malley, the chief negotiator of the Iran Deal, is a ‘public, unabashed supporter of the mullahs, an unabashed supporter of Hamas’.

Not forgetting lesser luminaries like Maher Bitar, who used to be on the board of the racist Students for Justice in Palestine and is now the NSC’s senior director for intelligence programs. Or Hady Amr, who used to be national coordinator of the anti-Israel Middle East Justice Network, has written of being ‘inspired’ by the Palestinian intifada, and threatened vengeance after Israel assassinated a Hamas leader. Amr is now deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine.
The choice of Malley, Bitar and Amr are concerning.
But Israel is not the only country on edge.

Walter Russell Mead of The Wall Street Journal writes about Biden’s Rough Start With the World, claiming that "this has been one of the shortest and coldest diplomatic honeymoons on record," referring to Biden's boast that "America is back" not being welcomed by US allies quite as enthusiastically as Democrats may have expected. In Europe, American "wokeness" is being rejected by France while Russia and China are being viewed as attractive trading partners by Europe, ignoring Biden's talk of human rights.

And in the Middle East:

Iran is showing no eagerness to ease the administration’s path back into the 2015 nuclear deal. And both Israel and the conservative Arab states resent the American shift in that direction.

After just 4 years of Trump, Biden might just discover that this is no longer Obama's Middle East.
Or world.

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