Israel frustrated by long wait for Joe Biden phone call despite close security ties

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James Rothwell
·4 min read
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US president Joe Biden is yet to call his Israeli counterpart - Getty/Getty
US president Joe Biden is yet to call his Israeli counterpart - Getty/Getty

Israel's former envoy to the UN sent an ill-tempered tweet to Joe Biden on Thursday which implored him to telephone their prime minister, as the US president appeared to give his closest security partner in the Middle East the cold shoulder.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is yet to receive a personal phone call from Mr Biden, who has already spoken to leaders in Britain, France and Germany, among others.

Danny Danon, Israel's former permanent representative to the United Nations, sent a tweet to the US president with a phone number for Mr Netanyahu's office as he pleaded that the White House pick up the phone.

"Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the US?" Danny Danon asked President Biden in the tweet, after listing countries whose leaders had already received a phone call, including Britain.

Since taking office, Mr Biden has spoken with leaders in Canada, Mexico, India, France and Germany but has not yet called Mr Netanyahu, who in contrast had an exceedingly warm relationship with former president Donald Trump.

It was Mr Trump who delighted the Israeli prime minister by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and declaring the disputed Golan Heights territory - which is claimed by Syria, - to be Israeli soil. As a gesture of gratitude, an Israeli settlement in the Golan has since been renamed "Trump Heights."

View of the sign of a Golan settlement named after Donald Trump - AFP/AFP
View of the sign of a Golan settlement named after Donald Trump - AFP/AFP

Mr Trump's "maximum pressure" approach to sanctions on the Iranian regime and his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal were also well received by Israeli officials.

But Mr Biden, who has said he is opposed to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and has resumed aid funding to the Palestinians, is expected to be far less friendly towards Mr Netanyahu.

Israeli analysts said Mr Biden's silence was sending a clear message that he disapproved of a series of controversial moves made by Israel between his election victory and inauguration.

These include the alleged assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, various airstrikes against pro-Iran forces in Syria and plans to expand settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Both Israel and the US government under Mr Trump regarded Iran as a mortal enemy and a potentially catastrophic nuclear threat, while Mr Biden has adopted a more circumspect approach to the regime.

Israeli officials say they are concerned that Mr Biden will "slide back" into foreign policies of the Obama-era, such as the nuclear deal, which they say will undermine the security of the region.

Dr Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and pollster, said the absence of a phone call for Mr Netanyahu was also a power play of sorts from the Biden Administration.

After the Israeli government made several vocal appeals to Mr Biden over the threat of Iran, she said, "Biden is now answering back, saying - I heard you. Now hear my silence. You wait for me [to call] now."

She added: "He will call soon enough, but from [the Israeli government's perspective] it's never too early to lay the foundation for calling this administration hostile to Israel. That way they can say, 'see? He was hostile from the start'."

Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy analyst at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said Mr Biden may come to regret his silence.

"It’s unclear why President Biden would wish to signal to all of Israel’s enemies that the United States doesn’t stand with our most important ally in the Middle East," she told the Times of Israel, condemning his "bizarre, inappropriate, immature," conduct.

Even if the lack of a phone call heralds a tense relationship between America and Israel, they will still have to coordinate on security issues.

In addition to the Iran nuclear threat, Mr Biden is under pressure to address growing Iranian influence in Iraq and Yemen as well as Russia's military presence in Syria.