U.S. President Joe Biden did not call Benjamin Netanyahu for over a month after his inauguration due to the Middle East being moved down his list of priorities, according Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States from 2002-2006.
Ayalon, who got to know Joe Biden and his inner circle well during his time in the U.S., says he does not believe there was a technical reason why the president did not call Netanyahu, as was cited by official sources.
"Biden has not called any of the leaders in the Middle East. It signals that for the United States, the Middle East has been placed way down on its list of priorities. The administration has global issues like the climate to deal with; the Middle East can wait,” says Ayalon.
“Even so, as a special ally to the U.S., Israel has always been an exceptional case when it comes to the Middle Eastern issue, that is why it is certainly unusual that Biden did not call Netanyahu for so long.”
Ayalon says that the reason also lies with Netanyahu’s close ties to Biden’s Republican predecessor.
“I think the special relationship - perhaps too special - that Netanyahu had with Donald Trump is a sticking point. It is perceived by Democrats as interfering in internal American political issues,” says Ayalon.
“It was important for Biden’s administration to announce - not to Israel, but to Netanyahu - that there’s a new sheriff in town who is changing the rules. Netanyahu will no longer get the gifts that Trump gave him wholesale.”
Ayalon is certain the new administration is a true friend of Israel, especially when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat.
“Secretary of State Antony Blinken is truly a friend. He is Jewish, and his stepfather was a Holocaust survivor. His friendship with Israel will continue in the strongest possible way. Biden says he himself is a true Zionist, so I don’t believe there is a reason to be worried,” says Ayalon.
The former ambassador says that while the Middle East has been largely sidelined, the Iranian issue is certainly a high priority. Biden has already spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of all the world powers involved in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was brokered by Barack Obama and abandoned by Trump.
"[Biden’s] approach is supervised and rational, and is based on cooperation and international alliances," Ayalon says. "He is also a very experienced man. He was on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for 36 years, including several years as chairman of the committee.”
Ayalon acknowledges that while Biden has agreed to return the U.S. to the 2015 nuclear agreement it will not be under the previous terms of the deal.
“Biden himself said as much. I'm now quoting Blinken, not Biden - there will be no automatic return to agreement, there will be some improvements made. The Iranians have first demanded the removal of the sanctions and Biden says the first step is for the Iranians to stop enriching uranium. From what I understand, there are currently no behind the scenes contacts,” says Ayalon.
“I think the new administration learnt from the mistakes of the Obama Administration, who talked with the Iranians behind Israel’s back. I believe Biden will try to keep Israel in the picture.”
Ayalon added that in order to better deal with the Iranian issue, he would advise Netanyahu to deploy Israeli officials abroad.
“I would advise him to send Israel’s envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan together with the head of the Mossad to Washington in order to meet with policymakers such as National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan, Blinken and [incoming] CIA director William Burns, and prepare a joint platform on the issue.”
“I would also suggest to Netanyahu to give Biden a chance - this is not Obama with whom there was complete distrust and even mutual antipathy. Biden has a more positive attitude, we need to give him a chance,” Ayalon says.
“I would also tell Netanyahu not to speak on the issue publicly, and convey any messages through the usual and secret channels and wait. We must remember that today the Congress is under Democratic control. This is why Netanyahu must work with Biden and his people from an inclusive approach of closeness.”
As for the Israel-Palestinian issue, Ayalon says he does not believe Biden will try to intervene or offer any sort of solution.
“They were burned before," he says.
"The Obama administration spent eight years of resources and political prestige on the issue only to achieve nothing. Biden was personally burned when in 2010 he was here just as the government decided to expand a settlement in the West Bank. He, Blinken and the entire team understand that nothing will come out of the Palestinian issue."