When United States President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel concludes this week with a historic direct flight to Saudi Arabia from the Jewish state, the president will carry with him “a message of peace and hope from us,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at his weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Lapid said he hoped Biden would carry this message with him as he leaves Israel.
“Israel reaches out to all the countries in the region and calls on them to build ties with us, to establish relations with us and to change history for the sake of our children,” he said.
Biden’s flight – the first such trip for an American president from Israel directly into Saudi Arabia – is a symbol of the continued “steps toward normalization,” the president himself said in a Washington Post editorial.
After the signing of the Abraham Accords in the fall of 2020, Saudi airspace was opened to Israeli flights destined for the Far East, and pilgrimage flights for Muslims between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Last October, the first Israeli commercial flight from Israel landed in the kingdom.
In Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Lapid said that when he meets with Biden, Iran will also be on the agenda and noted in a Saturday report that the Islamic regime has begun using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium at its underground Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Lapid also called on the international community to impose sanctions on Tehran immediately.
“The international response needs to be decisive: to return to the U.N. Security Council and activate the sanctions mechanism at full force,” Lapid said.
The prime minister added: “Israel, for its part, reserves full freedom of action – political and operational – in the fight against the Iranian nuclear program.”
Lapid pointed out that “this is an opportunity to again thank the United States for not lifting the sanctions on the Iranian IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].”
“Iran is behind Hezbollah [in Lebanon] and supports Hamas [in Gaza], and Iranian terror cells recently tried to murder Israeli tourists in Istanbul,” he said. “Israel will not stand idly by while Iran tries to attack us. Our security services know how to reach anyone, anywhere – and they will do just that.”
Biden’s two days in Israel and the West Bank come six years after his last official visit to the Promised Land, then as vice president. At the time, Jordan and Egypt were the only Arab nations that bore official diplomatic ties with Israel.
Lapid called Biden “one of the closest friends that Israel has ever had in American politics.”
According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, a central aim of the president’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia is to encourage Arab nations to strengthen security ties and overall relations with Israel.
Lapid made a point at the Cabinet briefing to send a message of friendship to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Near East.
At the GCC+3 [Gulf Cooperation Council] Summit in Saudi Arabi, Biden will meet with leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
The U.S. is working to complete an agreement prior to Biden’s arrival in Israel that would transfer a pair of Red Sea islands from Egyptian to Saudi control as a part of a process that would see Riyadh take a series of steps toward normalization with Israel. In 2017, Egypt’s House of Representatives approved the transfer, which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi first signed in April 2016.
The two islands – Tiran and Sanafir – lie at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. They were captured by Israel in the Six-Day War and transferred back to Egypt as a part of the 1979 peace agreement. In 2017, both the Saudi and the Egyptian governments stated that the two islands have become Saudi.
In 1979, the two countries agreed to demilitarize the islands and to allow the presence of a multinational observer force. Israel is now seeking similar guarantees from Saudi Arabia, but Riyadh has been hesitant to commit to this in writing.