U.S. President Joe Biden met with Israel’s former prime minister, current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, for 32 minutes, according to Ynet, despite earlier reports that the meeting would only last 15 minutes.
Afterwards, Netanyahu told Israeli media that he had a “great, warm” meeting with Biden and thanked the U.S. president for a “personal deep friendship” and his “strong commitment to the State of Israel.”
He also expressed his gratitude for Biden’s pledge to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system after last year’s round of fighting between Gaza and Israel which occurred when Netanyahu was prime minister.
“He accomplished the mission and stood by us on many issues,” Netanyahu said.
“We have been friends for 40 years,” Netanyahu noted, “but in order to ensure the next 40 years, we need to address the Iranian threat. Sanctions are not enough, as there is a need for a credible offensive military option – without which nothing is not going to work. He knows my stance that the deal is a bad one.”
In addition the Iranian nuclear threat, Biden and Netanyahu also discussed Israel’s potential entry to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
Israel has recently taken a series of steps to meet the criteria required to join the desired program, such as signing an information-sharing agreement. However, in order to abide by all conditions, Israel must still pass additional legislation in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), however, the Netanyahu-led opposition did not guarantee its support.
Netanyahu is running for re-election in Israel’s upcoming elections in November and his Likud Party is currently leading in the polls. According to the State Department, there is precedent for U.S. presidents to meet both the prime minister and opposition leader during an election campaign season.
Earlier in the day, Biden met with Prime Minister Lapid and signed a joint Strategic Partnership declaration.
Biden also met with the country’s President Isaac Herzog on Thursday for a festive ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.
“You have been a faithful, lifelong friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish People,” Herzog told Biden. “Your tireless advocacy of the enduring U.S.-Israel partnership, in word and in deed, has truly withstood the test of time.”
The Israeli president also thanked Biden for his administration’s support for the Abraham Accords.
“Under your leadership, we can continue transforming our region from a source of global tension to a source of global stability and progress,” Herzog said. “The Middle East can grow into a meeting point for climate innovation and combined medical research, clean energy and peaceful exchange among faiths and peoples. This is the blessing you will bring in the coming days to your meetings in Jeddah.”
Herzog surprised Biden in their private meeting, when he handed him the official protocol of his meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir nearly 50 years ago. The document was found in Israel’s national archive, Herzog noted.
Herzog also presented Biden with the Presidential Medal of Honor, the highest award to be given by the Israeli president. The medal is awarded to individuals who have made an extraordinary contribution to Israel or to humanity through their talents, their service or in any other way.
Former recipients of the Presidential Medal of Honor include former U.S. President Barack Obama, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and more.