Naftali Bennett’s meeting with Joe Biden comes amid rising tensions with Iran and the new Israeli bombing of Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with President Joe Biden comes as tensions rise with its archenemy, Iran, and as Israel renews its bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip amid Palestinian protests.
Bennett, on his first state visit abroad since taking office, was scheduled to meet on Wednesday with top administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and on Thursday with Biden.
In a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office before his departure, Bennett said the top priority in his conversation with Biden would be Iran “especially the leaps in the past two or three years in Iran’s nuclear program.”
He said other issues would also be discussed, including the qualitative superiority of the Israeli army, the coronavirus pandemic and economic issues.
Bennett has spoken out against the possibility of a new nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and said any agreement must stop Iran’s regional aggression.
Recent months have seen a series of attacks on ships linked to Israel, which are believed to have been carried out by Iran.
Earlier this week, Bennett told his cabinet that he would tell the US president “it’s time to stop the Iranians, stop this thing” and not go back to “a nuclear deal that’s already over and irrelevant, even to those who thought it was relevant.”
Friction between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has escalated in the three months since the ongoing 11-day Israeli offensive that killed 265 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas – the group that rules the Strip – to reach an arrangement for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip collapsed last week.
Hamas launched incendiary balloons into Israel and organized demonstrations along the border.
Palestinians say the balloons are aimed at pressuring Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza and allow aid to reach the Strip.
Medics said Israeli forces shot 41 Palestinians and seriously wounded two as they confronted Gaza protesters along the fence on Saturday.
The army said Palestinian fire seriously wounded an Israeli soldier.
“There is a new government in the United States and a new government in Israel, and I bring with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of cooperation, and that depends on the special and long relationship between the two countries,” Bennett said before takeoff.
Bennett took office two months ago after forging a governing coalition of eight disparate political parties – ranging from ultra-nationalist Jewish nationalists to a small Islamist faction – that ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu from office after the country’s fourth consecutive parliamentary election in two years.