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Biden, Battered at Home, Basks in Unvarnished Praise in Israel

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JERUSALEM — If President Biden’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday for his first trip here since taking office could possibly be summarized in only two words, they could be: Donald who?

A yr and a half after Donald J. Trump left the White House, Israeli leaders welcomed his successor with a rapturous embrace, as if to prove that their love affair with the previous president wouldn’t stand in the way in which of an in depth relationship with the brand new president. As for Mr. Biden, he seemed just as determined to prove that he took a back seat to nobody in supporting Israel.

At a red-carpet airport ceremony flush with fawning on each side, Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, called his American counterpart “our brother Joseph,” declaring that “you might be truly amongst family.” The country’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, called Mr. Biden “an important Zionist and the most effective friends Israel has ever known.” For his part, Mr. Biden asserted that “our relationship is deeper for my part than it’s ever been” and told an Israeli interviewer that returning to the Holy Land was “like going home.”

Home, in actual fact, just isn’t very similar to this nowadays for Mr. Biden, who rarely gets such unvarnished praise or loving hugs back in America, where his poll numbers have plummeted and even most Democrats are not looking for him to run for an additional term.

The chummy, grinning, backslapping reception he received on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport could have been something of a balm. Even former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was so besotted with Mr. Trump that he named a settlement after him, greeted Mr. Biden with a warm, prolonged handshake.

“Every probability to return to this great country where the traditional roots of the Jewish people date back to biblical times is a blessing, since the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone-deep, bone-deep,” Mr. Biden said through the ceremony at Ben Gurion. “Generation after generation, that connection grows.”

In the method, Israel became more of a partisan issue in the US, with Republicans making strong support for it a litmus test and Democrats growing increasingly critical of the country’s policies toward the Palestinians.

But Mr. Biden indicated he desired to restore traditional Democratic support for Israel whilst he hoped to resume the American role of honest broker with the Palestinians. In an interview with Israeli television, he rejected Democrats who’ve denounced Israel as an apartheid state.

“There are just a few of them,” he told the anchor Yonit Levi of Channel 12 in a session taped on the White House on Tuesday and aired on Wednesday night. “I feel they’re improper. I feel they’re making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend. And I feel that I make no apologies.”

The mutual show of bonhomie, nevertheless, papered over fundamental differences, most notably on Iran and the Palestinians. Mr. Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 accord with Iran abandoned by Mr. Trump have raised hackles amongst many Israeli leaders who doubt Tehran would abide by a deal’s limits to its nuclear program. And the president will meet on Friday within the West Bank with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the primary such high-level contact since 2017.

In his Israeli television interview, Mr. Biden reassured Israelis that any Iran deal wouldn’t sacrifice their security. “The one thing worse than the Iran that exists now’s an Iran with nuclear weapons, and if we are able to return to the deal, we are able to hold them tight,” he said. “I feel it was a huge mistake for the last president to get out of the deal. They’re closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before.”

The negotiations have yet to yield a deal, and one in all the missions of the trip shall be to be sure that the US is on the identical page with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other enemies of Iran in the event that they fail. But Mr. Biden held out hope that the talks may yet succeed. “We’ve laid it out on the table, we’ve made the deal, we’ve offered it, and it’s as much as Iran now,” he said.

He again rejected Iran’s insistence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps be taken off the foreign terrorist list as a part of any agreement, even when holding to that position meant killing the deal. Asked if he would use force against Iran to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he answered, “If that was the last resort, yes.”

Mr. Biden has an extended history with Israel. He first got here nearly half a century ago, in 1973, as a newly elected senator, and met Golda Meir, the famed Israeli prime minister. He has met every prime minister since.

Updated 

July 14, 2022, 9:34 a.m. ET

For the primary day of his tenth visit to Israel, Mr. Biden selected two symbolic statements by receiving a briefing on Israel’s latest defense against rocket attacks and visiting the country’s iconic Yad Vashem memorial for Holocaust victims.

Among the many weapons displayed for him on the airport was a prototype of a recent laser defense system that Israeli leaders have described as a strategic game changer.

The weapon, often called the Iron Beam, a complement to the Iron Dome missile interception system, is a results of twenty years of research and experimentation. And while it should still be just a few years away from deployment, officials said the laser will give you the chance to knock down rockets, mortar shells, drones and anti-tank missiles.

Mr. Biden’s give attention to the joint work between Israel and the US on Iron Dome and Iron Beam was as essential strategically as symbolically. Iron Dome has been remarkably effective at protecting Israel from rocket attacks, and Iron Beam offers the possibility to blind a drone headed for civilians.

But to Mr. Biden, it was also a way of engaging Israel’s government in significant work with the US. That effort has been underway since President George W. Bush brought Israel and the US right into a joint effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear centrifuges with a cyberweapon called “Stuxnet,” helping forge a better relationship between American and Israeli cyber engineers.

At Yad Vashem, one in all the touchstones of Israeli society, Mr. Biden met with two Holocaust survivors, Rena Quint and Giselle Cycowicz, who were interned at concentration camps and, after the war, emigrated to the US.

With the 2 women seated on chairs, Mr. Biden knelt to their level, spoke with them for several minutes, clasped their hands and kissed their cheeks in an emotional scene shown on national television.

Afterward, Ms. Cycowicz, 95, said: “After I got here to America, I didn’t know a soul there. And I met so many friends. And now I even have been invited to fulfill a very powerful person on the earth.”

Adding his to call to the memorial’s visitor book, the president wrote, “We mustn’t ever, ever forget because hate is rarely defeated, it only hides.”

But Mr. Biden’s encounter with the 2 Holocaust survivors also undercut what gave the impression to be a White House effort to construct justification for avoiding a politically damaging moment later within the trip. From Israel, the president will fly on Friday to Saudi Arabia, where he’ll meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, deemed the mastermind of the brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.

Mr. Biden’s team, knowing that images of the president shaking hands with the crown prince could be embarrassing, had hinted to reporters the president might forgo all handshakes within the Middle East due to virulent recent Covid-19 subvariant.

The president only went together with this system for just a few minutes. When he disembarked from Air Force One, he shunned shaking hands with Mr. Lapid and other Israeli leaders, offering them fist bumps as a substitute. But he was hardly avoiding close contact as he cheerfully patted their arms, gave them partial hugs and pulled them close with no masks in sight.

When brought over to pose with parliamentary leaders, he distributed with the no-handshake rule altogether, grasping Mr. Netanyahu’s hand for an especially prolonged and seemingly friendly greeting.

By the point he arrived at Yad Vashem, he was clearly done with the concept of keeping his distance. The survivors had gotten the memo, even when he was now not following it. “He asked permission to kiss me, and he kept on holding my hand,” said Ms. Quint, 86, “and we were told not to the touch him.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

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