JERUSALEM – President Joe Biden will begin his first presidential trip to the middle east in Israel, America’s closest ally in the region.
The emphasis of your trip? Security.
The United States has long had a excessive commitment to Israel. But Biden’s relationship with the Middle Eastern nation has been strained by his attempts to restart a 2015 deal with Iran that was meant to curb its nuclear activities.
Biden continues to look for ways to expand defense cooperation in the region.
By flying directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia on Friday, Biden hopes to promote Israel’s desire to establish diplomatic relations with the kingdom that could help Middle Eastern countries unite against Iran. Israel has already formalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
First trip: Although Biden is a longtime supporter of Israel, this is his first presidential visit to the Middle East. Since he took office last year, he has dealt with other priorities, notably Russia and China.
Complicated dynamics: Biden seeks to restart relations with the Palestinians after years of estrangement under the Trump administration.
New alliances: Biden could play a key role in brokering the start of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Moment: Biden is coming like Israel preparing for a fifth election in three years after the recent collapse of a coalition government.
What to watch for: Biden and the Israelis are likely to focus on areas they agree on, particularly security cooperation, and try to avoid inflaming sides where they don’t.
What is going to happen
Biden is scheduled to receive a briefing from Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defense Minister. They are expected to talk about “Iron Dome,” the US-backed missile defense system, and “Iron Beam,” a new laser-enabled system.
Washington backed another $1 billion in US funds to resupply the Iron Dome after Israel’s 11-day conflict last year with Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza. Congress approved the funding despite complaints from progressive Democrats that US taxpayer money is being used to exacerbate Palestinian suffering and entrench the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who resigned last month, said the system could potentially be shared with Arab neighbors, opening up the possibility of Israel selling its superior defense technology.
what they are saying
“What matters is that we have a fundamental and uncompromising commitment to the security of the state of Israel,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser. “That’s what he’s going to put on display.”
Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum said an important part of Biden’s journey is regional security and “particularly figuring out where everyone can work together to counter Iranian drones and Iranian ballistic missiles throughout the region.”
“The general idea is to create more integration of the capabilities that exist in the region,” said Dennis Ross, a Middle East negotiator who has worked for the Democratic and Republican administrations. “This will clearly be an item on the president’s agenda.”
why does it matter
The United States would benefit from a more stable Middle East, particularly at a time when so much is happening in the rest of the world. Biden had hoped to focus on the growing economic and military threat posed by China, which is becoming increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea. That foreign policy priority was challenging enough even before Russia invaded Ukraine. But Biden also has to worry that China and Russia will increase their influence in the Middle East if the United States becomes less involved.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden kicks off Middle East trip in Israel, main focus on security