WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday discussed the growing threat to Ukraine from Russia’s Iranian-supplied war drones, as Israel comes under pressure to help Kyiv.
Mr Herzog told reporters at the White House after his talks that they “mainly” discussed Iran’s nuclear programme, the crushing of protesters demonstrating against strict Iranian religious laws, and the issue of Teheran’s drone sales to Russia.
The weapons are “killing innocent Ukrainian citizens”, Mr Herzog said.
Israel has been reluctant to get involved in a US-led alliance helping pro-Western Ukraine to repel a bloody Russian invasion.
But Mr Herzog’s trip to Washington underlined Israeli concern at the growing role of Iran in the conflict, with Teheran accused of supplying fleets of deadly drones used by Russia against Ukrainian civilian targets.
On Tuesday, Mr Herzog met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and announced he was sharing intelligence to prove that Iran has been supplying military drones to the Russians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed this on Wednesday, saying “this is a positive trend in relations with Israel.... After a long pause, I see us moving forward”.
Mr Biden andMr Herzog also discussed Iran’s ongoing tussle with the international community over its nuclear programme, which it insists has only civilian goals. Israel opposes a push by the Biden administration to salvage a deal that would reinstate international inspections in Iran in exchange for sanctions relief.
“They consulted on a wide range of global and regional issues of mutual concern, including the threats posed by Iran and its proxies. The president emphasised his administration’s pledge to ensure Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon,” the White House said in a statement after the talks.
Maritime border ‘breakthrough’
Sitting alongside Mr Herzog in the White House Oval Office, Mr Biden praised Israel for reaching a long-delayed accord with Lebanon on their sea border. The deal was brokered by the United States.
Mr Biden hailed the “historic breakthrough.”
“It took a lot of courage for you to step up and step into it,” he told Mr Herzog. “It took some real guts. It took principled and persistent diplomacy to get it done.”
Mr Biden said the newly agreed border would allow both countries to develop energy fields, and it would “create new hope and economic opportunities.”
However he pressed the Israeli president on the need to “deescalate” the violent standoff in the Palestinian West Bank and “underscored that a negotiated two-state solution remains the best avenue to achieve a lasting peace” with the Palestinians, the White House readout said.
Mr Biden “underlined the need to take continued steps to improve the lives of Palestinians, which are critical to peace, security and prosperity”.
Mr Herzog indicated that Mr Biden would be attending the COP27 climate summit in Egypt next month – something not yet confirmed by the White House – and said the climate crisis “can serve as a common denominator for so many nations”.
Mr Herzog’s visit comes days ahead of Israel’s fifth election in less than four years. Hawkish ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had tense relations with Democratic US administrations, is seeking a comeback.
It also comes less than two weeks before Americans vote in the midterm elections that are predicted to strip Mr Biden’s Democrats of their control of Congress.
“We have elections in Israel and you’re having midterm elections in the United States but one thing is clear – I think this visit epitomises that our friendship, our strong bond transcends all political differences,” Mr Herzog told Mr Biden. AFP