Biden arrives in Mideast jittery about Iran nuclear program

Biden arrives in Mideast jittery about Iran nuclear program

Biden arrives in Mideast jittery about Iran nuclear program

President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday to open the first visit to the Middle East of his presidency, a whirlwind four-day trip in which he will hold talks with Israeli, Palestinian, and Saudi Arabian officials.

Biden will be officially welcomed during a ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and receive a briefing on Israel’s Iron Dome and Iron Beam air defense systems. He’ll later make his way to Jerusalem for a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims in World War II.

Biden is spending two days in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the West Bank.

He will then fly directly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -- a first for a U.S. president -- on Friday for talks with Saudi officials and Gulf allies attending a summit in the port city.

Biden is expected to use the trip to urge the Israelis and Saudis to work closer together amid growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. He’ll also look to press the Saudis and other oil-producing Gulf allies to pump more oil as drivers around the world are feeling the pinch of elevated gas and food prices in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


The 79-year-old president’s visit to Jeddah on Friday will be the focus of the tour, after Biden branded Saudi Arabia a "pariah" over the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

Air Force One - which has left the United States and is expected to land at 1230 GMT in Tel Aviv - will also make an unprecedented direct flight between the Jewish state and the conservative Gulf kingdom that does not recognize its existence.

Before that, Biden will meet Israeli leaders seeking to broaden cooperation against Iran, and Palestinian leaders frustrated by what they describe as Washington’s failure to curb Israeli aggression.

The persistent frustrations of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy are nothing new for Biden, who first visited the region in 1973 after being elected to the Senate.

Iran and Israel were allies then, but the Jewish state now considers Tehran its top threat.

Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who took office less than two weeks ago, has said talks "will focus first and foremost on the issue of Iran."

Moments after Biden touches down, Israel’s military will show him its new Iron Beam system, an anti-drone laser it claims is crucial to countering Iran’s UAV fleet.

Israel insists it will do whatever is necessary to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and is staunchly opposed to a restoration of the 2015 deal that gave Tehran sanctions relief.

Israel says it is raising 1,000 flags across Jerusalem to welcome the US leader, who has not reversed former president Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize the city as the capital of the Jewish state.

Palestinians claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital and, ahead of the visit, have accused Biden of failing to make good on his pledge to restore the United States as an honest broker in the conflict.

"We only hear empty words and no results," said Jibril Rajoub, a leader of the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Biden will meet Abbas in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday, but there is no expectation of bold announcements towards a fresh peace process, meaning the visit may merely deepen Palestinian frustration.

Israel is also mired in political gridlock ahead of elections on November 1, the fifth vote in less than four years.

US-Palestinian ties have recently been strained by the May killing of prominent Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

The United Nations has concluded the Palestinian-American national was killed by Israeli fire, something Washington found was likely but said there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Abu Akleh’s family has voiced "outrage" over the Biden administration’s "abject response" to her death, and the White House has not commented on their request to meet the president in Jerusalem.

Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is seen as part of efforts to stabilize oil markets rattled by the war in Ukraine, by re-engaging with a country that has been a key strategic ally of the United States for decades and a major supplier of the fuel.
But Israel hopes the visit will also signal the start of diplomatic ties between the country and Riyadh.

Israel expanded its regional reach with US backing in 2020, when it formalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco - breakthroughs that came after its peace accord with Jordan, in 1994, and Egypt in 1979.

While there is no expectation of Saudi Arabia recognizing the Jewish state in the immediate future, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday that Biden’s visit marked an important step.