The Latest: Saudi Arabia lifts ban on Israeli flights
The Latest on U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the Mideast:
JERUSALEM — Saudi Arabia on Friday opened its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of its longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying its territory — a key step toward normalization between the two nations as President Joe Biden visits the region.
In a statement posted to Twitter hours before Biden is set to become the first U.S. leader to fly directly from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said it was announcing “the decision to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying.”
The announcement is an incremental step toward the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and builds on the strong but informal ties the erstwhile foes have developed recent years over their shared concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and Gulf states to cross through its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published news reports about their welcome.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. oil and gas industry welcomed President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia but also urged him on Thursday to visit energy sites at home amid the gas crisis.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group, said a strong relationship with the kingdom benefits U.S. geopolitical interests, given Saudi Arabia’s important role in maintaining regional stability in the Middle East.
“As it relates to the global oil market, Saudi Arabia is a key player and maintaining a constructive dialogue between our two nations is important,″ API president and CEO Mike Sommers said in a statement.
“That said, if the administration is serious about increasing (oil) supply, they should be meeting with producers here at home to bring real and lasting solutions instead of looking to governments overseas,” he added.
The oil industry has battled Biden in recent weeks amid record-high gasoline prices and industry complaints that the president has sought to vilify the industry while restricting new leases for domestic oil and gas production.
Sommers and other oil executives met with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last month in a bid to find ways to increase gasoline supplies and lower prices. Biden has proposed a summer holiday on the federal gas tax, but the plan has met bipartisan opposition in Congress.
Gas prices in the United States averaged about $4.60 per gallon Thursday, down 41 cents from a month ago, according to AAA.
JERUSALEM — President Joe Biden cheered on U.S. athletes at the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem on Thursday evening.
Biden was greeted by “USA” chants as he arrived at Teddy Stadium shortly before the opening ceremony to meet with the American delegation.
“I’m so damn proud of you,” Biden told the athletes. “You demonstrate to the world that we can do anything.”
Donning the Team U.S. hat, Biden said, “Godspeed and go get ’em, guys,” before joining Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog to watch the ceremony.
The event, sometimes referred to as the ‘Jewish Olympics,’ takea place every four years in Israel and is open to Jewish athletes around the world and Israeli athletes of any ethnicity or faith. Biden’s attendance at the games comes amid his 48-hour visit to Israel and the West Bank on the first Middle East trip of his presidency.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s hard-line president issued a broad threat Thursday against the United States and Israel, warning them of a “harsh and regrettable response” to any action against the Islamic Republic.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke as U.S. President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem, discussing concerns over Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program with Israeli leaders. Israel reiterated its commitment to stopping Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Raisi blamed the U.S. and “its regional allies” for stoking instability in the region, state-run IRNA news agency reported.
“Any mistake by the Americans and their allies in the region and the world will be met with a harsh and regrettable response,” Raisi said.
One of Biden’s aims on his trip to the Middle East is to boost Israel’s security alliance with Gulf Arab states, built on the shared fear of Iran.
Israel “can never have normal relations in the region,” Raisi added.
Negotiations to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear accord with world powers have stalled. Raisi on Wednesday said Iran would stick to its its “rightful and logical stance” in the standoff, without elaborating.
JERUSALEM — U.S. President Joe Biden received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Honor on Thursday in recognition of 50 years of support for the country in his career as a politician.
Israeli Prime Minister Isaac Herzog praised Biden’s “uncompromising decades long commitment to Israel’s security” as he presented Biden with the award. Biden called the award a “great honor.”
In brief remarks at the ceremony, Biden, 79, joked that “it’s hard to say these words ‘for over 50 years.’”
He noted that the crowd included representatives of all faiths, as well as ambassadors of the Arab countries which have signed peace accords with Israel, noting that 50 years ago such an audience would have been unfathomable.
Biden assured Herzog that “America’s commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, today and in the future.”
He added: “That commitment is not about me or any other American president. It springs from a deep affinity and enduring connection between our peoples.”
JERUSALEM — President Joe Biden received a warm welcome as he arrived at the official residence of Israel’s ceremonial president on Thursday.
Biden was greeted by President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal as they escorted him along a row of smiling children excitedly waving American and Israeli flags.
A loud technopop version of the Israeli song, “I was born for peace,” written in 1979 to mark Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt, blared in the background.
Biden signed the guest book and shook Herzog’s hand before noting that the president’s grandfather, the late Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, was the chief rabbi of Ireland. Biden often proudly boasts of his Irish roots.
“I also think it’s a great day for the Irish today,” Herzog said.
Herzog was to present Biden with Israel’s prestigious Presidential Medal of Honor.
JERUSALEM — President Joe Biden declined to commit to mentioning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based writer, when he meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the kingdom.
“I always bring up human rights,” Biden said during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday. “But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn’t understand it, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while.”
Biden said the purpose of his trip to Saudi Arabia is “broader” and designed to “reassert” U.S. influence in the Middle East. He’s scheduled to attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes several Arab nations.
“I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is filled by China and or Russia, against the interests of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” Biden said.
Khashoggi was a critic of the Saudi regime who wrote for the Washington Post. He was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
His widow recently told Spectrum News that she received a commitment from U.S. officials that Biden would mention him to the crown prince when they meet on Friday.
JERUSALEM — The leaders of Israel and the United States aired their differences on how to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons Thursday even as President Joe Biden pledged America’s “ironclad commitment” to Israel’s security.
During a joint news conference in Jerusalem, Israel’s prime minister says the international community must be willing to use force against Iran in order to halt its nuclear program.
“The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force,” he said. “The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.”
Biden defended his efforts to rejuvenate the international agreement intended to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, a strategy that Israel opposes.
“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” he said, adding that the U.S. is “not going to wait forever” rejuvenate the Iran nuclear deal that President Donald Trump abandoned.
They spoke shortly after signing a joint declaration in which the U.S. vowed to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
JERUSALEM — The niece of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, says U.S. President Joe Biden should meet with her family as it seeks to hold Israel accountable for her death.
“We want him to hear personally our demands, our concerns and our calls for accountability and justice,” Lina Abu Akleh told CBS Mornings on Thursday.
Abu Akleh’s family has sharply criticized a State Department investigation that concluded Israeli gunfire was likely responsible for the journalist’s death in the West Bank. But the U.S. government said it found no reason to suggest the gunfire was intentional.
Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp. She was wearing a blue bulletproof vest that identified her as a member of the media at the time.
“We aren’t only seeking accountability for the soldier that killed Shireen, but but the entire chain of command who gave the order,” she said.
JERUSALEM --- The United States says it is ready to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
The U.S. made the pledge Thursday in a joint statement with Israel affirming their “unbreakable bonds” and an American commitment to Israel’s security.
The joint statement was released after a meeting between the visiting U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem.
The U.S. has long said that it would be willing to use force as a last resort against Iran. But the tough language in Thursday’s statement, coming while Biden stood alongside Israel’s leader, holds symbolic significance.
Biden heads to Saudi Arabia on Friday on a mission aimed at strengthening Israel’s burgeoning ties with Gulf Arab countries -- part of a larger effort to forge a broad anti-Iran alliance.
Thursday’s statement offered little to the Palestinians. Biden affirmed his commitment to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians but offered no vision on how to make that happen. Israel, meanwhile, promised nothing more than trying to improve the Palestinian economy and quality of life.
JERUSALEM —- The leaders of the United States, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday held their first virtual summit as part of a new initiative that’s being called the I2U2, a collection of countries that have pledged greater collaboration.
The idea was hatched last year in Washington, at the home of the U.A.E. ambassador, according to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“We sat around the table and spoke about how, after we get control over the pandemic, anyone trying to go back to how things used to be would fail,” Lapid said. “Anyone who understands that we live in a new world with new challenges would succeed and flourish.”
He added that, “In the 21st century, challenges are local, but the solutions are global.”
The virtual summit started more than an hour late, and there were some brief technical difficulties at the beginning until U.A.E. President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was unmuted.
“I also hope that our quartet will be a model for those who desire peace and prosperity,” he said in his opening remarks.
The countries announced that the U.A.E. would finance a $2 billion agricultural project in India, with potential help from U.S. and Israeli companies.
“The more we work together, the more we’ll see the benefits multiply and grow to advance our shared commitment to peace, stability and growing prosperity,” Biden said. “They all go together.”
JERUSALEM -- President Joe Biden says he is working to promote Israel’s burgeoning ties with Arab partners in the Middle East.
The U.S. president spoke after meeting Israel’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, in Jerusalem on Thursday.
“I talked about how important it was from my perspective for Israel to be totally integrated in the region,” Biden said.
Under the Trump administration, Israel struck diplomatic deals with four Arab countries known as the Abraham Accords.
Biden is hoping to build on those fledgling ties as he heads to Saudi Arabia to meet with Gulf Arab partners this weekend. The ties are largely based on shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and military activities across the region.
Lapid described Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia as “extremely important to Israel.”
Biden also appeared to give a boost to Lapid, who hopes to win a full term in November elections. “We had a good beginning of a long, God willing, relationship,” Biden said.
JERUSALEM — The United Arab Emirates is investing $2 billion to launch food processing centers across India that will use climate-smart technologies to help reduce waste and conserve fresh water.
The initiative was announced on Thursday ahead of the first virtual leaders’ meeting of I2U2 — a new grouping of Israel, India, United States and UAE — that is looking to spur joint investments in water, energy, transportation, food security, and more.
India will provide land for the project. U.S. and Israeli private firms are invited to lend their expertise to the project that the group said will help maximize crop yields. The group has set tackling food insecurity in South and Middle East as a major goal.
President Joe Biden is taking part the video meeting from Israel, where he is in the second day of a whirlwind visit to the Middle East.
JERUSALEM — U.S. President Joe Biden has begun a one-on-one meeting in Jerusalem with Israel’s prime minister, Yair Lapid.
Their talks are the centerpiece of a 48-hour visit by the U.S. president aimed at strengthening already tight relations between the two countries.
The leaders are expected to sign a joint declaration emphasizing military cooperation as well as their commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The commitments to Israel could hold important symbolic importance ahead of Biden’s meeting this weekend with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia as he seeks to strengthen a regionwide alliance against Iran.
Thursday’s meeting also provides a boost to Lapid, who is Israel’s interim prime minister until elections in November. Lapid’s main opponent is the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His joint appearance with Biden could help burnish his credentials as a statesman and leader.