The White House is maintaining that President Joe Biden will “soon” speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but some are questioning if there are other reasons as to why the new president has waited to reach out.
Biden has already spoken to European and Asian leaders, but multiple administration sources told CNN on Thursday that such indicates the administration’s priorities are more focused on “confronting China and Russia as well as repairing relations and damaged alliances.”
CNN notes that “while Israel is still a critical ally,” an unnamed source “said there is some sense of payback in making Netanyahu wait for a call.”
The same source noted on the history between the two leaders, noting that Netanyahu portrayed a “cool treatment” of former President Obama and maintained a “close alignment with former President Donald Trump.” In addition, the prime minister was slower than other world leaders to congratulate Biden after media outlets announced his victory.
The Times of Israel reported, “After hours of silence, Netanyahu congratulates Biden, but doesn’t say what for,” including a tweet from the Prime Minister that did not refer to Joe Biden as the president-elect or Kamala Harris as the vice president-elect.
Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel. I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 8, 2020
The message, “’Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel,” was sent at 7 a.m. in Israel (midnight EST), “more than 12 hours after US media networks called the presidency for Biden.” The Prime Minister included, “I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the US and Israel.”
Following his congratulatory message, Netanyahu expressed gratitude to Trump:
Thank you @realDonaldTrump for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 8, 2020
Former U.S. government officials added their thoughts on the situation between the two leaders this week, including Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. He responded to a tweet by Ambassador Danny Danon, the former Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations. Danon tweeted a list of countries whose leaders Biden has already called, including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, India, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Russia. He added “Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the #US?” He added Netanyahu’s phone number.
@POTUS Joe Biden, you have called world leaders from#Canada#Mexico#UK#India#France#Germany#Japan#Australia#SouthKorea#Russia
Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the #US?
The PM's number is: 972-2-6705555 pic.twitter.com/OYgPvVga6F
— Ambassador Danny Danon | דני דנון (@dannydanon) February 10, 2021
Ben Rhodes seemed to defend Biden’s decision, tweeting at Danon that “Bibi spent years relentlessly undermining the Obama-Biden Administration.”
The last time the two world leaders spoke on the phone was Nov. 17 when Netanyahu reached out to congratulate Biden on his victory. According to The Times of Israel, “Both men referred to the former US vice president as the president-elect — a first for Netanyahu — ending a long saga in which Israel was seen as unwilling to take a position on the election outcome.”
While Biden has not personally spoken with Netanyahu, his national security team has made multiple contacts. As reported by CNN, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi twice and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken with Defense Minister Benny Gantz. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has talked with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat. Multiple officials familiar with the relations between the two governments remark that there is constant communication.
On Monday, Netanyahu commented on Biden’s delay in a press conference, saying, “[Biden] calls leaders in the order that he finds acceptable, North America, then Europe. He hasn’t reached the Middle East yet. I presume he will call me. Believe me, I have no doubt about it.”
At Thursday’s press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “The President looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s obviously somebody that he has a long-standing relationship with and obviously there’s an important relationship that the United States has with Israel on the security front and as a key partner in the region…He’ll be talking with him soon.”
No future date for the call was given.