In a remarkable exchange on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki actually refuses to tell a reporter whether or not the Biden administration continues to view Israel as an ally of the United States. In a signal that President Biden is going to take a much different approach to Israel than his predecessor, the new president has actually not even spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since taking office. That makes him the first president in 40 years not to have reached out to Israel by this point in their tenure.
“Is there any update on whether the president has called or plans to call Prime Minister Netanyahu?” asked a reporter.
“I don’t have an update. He is looking forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I can assure you that will be soon, but I don’t have a specific time or date for when that will occur,” replied Psaki.
“As I’m sure you know, there’s a narrative in Israel that this is an intentional diss,” the reporter noted. “Is it?”
“It is not an intentional diss,” said Psaki. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the president has known for some time. Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel and the president has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s a mutual commitment to for some time. It is just a reflection of the fact that we’ve been here for three and a half weeks. He’s not called every single global leader yet and he is eager to do that in the weeks ahead.”
The reporter then pointed out that Biden has made calls to every other U.S. ally in Europe and Asia. Hell, he’s even carved out time to speak to China, whose status as an “ally” is highly disputable.
“He’s called many of them, that is true. Some would argue they haven’t received calls yet, and they are still eager to receive them. But I can assure you, he will be speaking with the prime minister soon and he’s looking forward to doing that,” Psaki weakly offered.
Finally, another reporter felt it necessary to just ask it straight out: Does Biden even consider Israel an ally of the U.S. anymore?
“Still on the issue of the Middle East, I mean, I know that you’re saying that things are still under review, including policies like the Abraham Accords, but can you please just give a broad sense of what the administration is trying to achieve in the Middle East? For example, does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?” they asked.
“Well, again, I think there are ongoing processes and internal inter-agency processes,” Psaki replied. “One that we, I think, confirmed, an inter-agency meeting just last week to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. We’ve only been here three and a half weeks. And I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give kind of a complete lay down of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.”
So…that’s not an answer. And it’s pretty remarkable that the Biden administration cannot simple answer as to whether or not our biggest Middle Eastern ally is still an ally in their view. Remarkable…and more than a little frightening.