JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and the United States sought détente between the two nations Wednesday at their first meeting of allies, the most right-wing since Israel’s new ultra-nationalist government came to power.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog hosts National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem the day before Sullivan is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ).Hovering over all the discussions are the new government’s policy changes This is in direct conflict with President Joe Biden’s efforts to improve the lives of Palestinians and stop Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu’s new government of ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties presents a huge dilemma for the Biden administration and has exposed deep divisions between the United States and its largest ally in the Middle East Both countries are grappling with the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s main rival, Iran.
“You came at the right time because we’ve tackled so many challenges together,” Herzog told Sullivan, noting that Biden hopes to visit Israel again after his first visit as president last summer.
Delicate dynamics lie behind the details, with the two countries’ agendas diverging in important ways.
Netanyahu’s coalition government has angered U.S. diplomats from day one, with an extremist cabinet minister visiting holy sites in Jerusalem and raising concerns about the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian-sovereign land. Netanyahu’s cabinet is also seeking to overhaul Israel’s judicial system, drawing strong criticism from many Israelis. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people protested against the proposed reforms.
Israeli leaders met with Sullivan and a U.S. Senate delegation this week in an attempt to focus on what Netanyahu said was “the potential for greater cooperation” on the Israeli-Arab deal and Iran policy.
But the new administration’s early moves have rattled Biden’s national security team as it seeks to divert attention from the Middle East to rivals such as China and Russia.
Israel’s care to avoid angering Moscow overshadowed Wednesday’s meeting, as the military confirmed that U.S. equipment stored in Israel had been moved weeks ago, without saying where it had been sent. The statement came after the New York Times reported that the United States was sending munitions to Ukraine for use in the war against Russia.
The report countered Israel’s balance on the Russian aggression. Netanyahu has cultivated a rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Israel has been keen to stay largely on the sidelines in the war so as not to damage its strategic relationship with the Kremlin. Russia maintains troops in Syria, a frequent target of Israeli airstrikes.
Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine but has rejected frequent requests from Kyiv to provide Ukraine with air defense systems and other military equipment. It has also refrained from imposing strict economic sanctions on Russia and the many Russian Jewish oligarchs who have adopted homes in Israel.
But with news of deepening ties between Moscow and Tehran, Israel is under increasing pressure to back Ukraine in the bitter war.