Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night pledged “total, unvarnished commitment” to the security of Israel, having arrived in the country in the midst of a spate of terror attacks.
Biden landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in late afternoon, as Israel reeled from three attacks — in Jerusalem, in Petah Tikva, and in Jaffa, not far from where he held his visit’s first meeting, with former president Shimon Peres. The sirens of ambulances rushing to the scene of the Jaffa attack were clearly audible as Peres hosted Biden, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
Speaking after their talks, Peres said Israel was battling terror attacks, and was also battling for peace, and specifically a two-state solution.
Responded Biden: “We have absolutely, total unvarnished commitment to the security of Israel.” He also said he hoped “we can make some progress” during his meetings in Israel and in the West Bank on Wednesday.
Biden and his wife Jill were greeted at the airport by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro at Ben-Gurion Airport before making their way to Jaffa for the meeting with Peres at the Peres Center for Peace.
At about the same time, a terror stabbing spree took place in the streets of Jaffa. One person was killed and some 10 people were wounded, and the attacker was shot dead.
On Wednesday Biden will confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and then meet President Reuven Rivlin before moving on to Ramallah to see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will leave on Thursday for Jordan.
Police said major roads would be closed and security boosted as Biden traveled around the area.
The trip will include talks in Israel on US economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria, the White House said.
Central to the discussions are expected to be the finalizing of a new 10-year defense aid package, which Israeli officials are looking to boost beyond the $3.1 billion it currently receives annually.
Talks will also include discussions on neighboring Syria and fighting terror. Biden, who has been involved in American efforts to smooth out relations with Turkey, may also discuss detente efforts between Ankara and Jerusalem.
The US has said Biden will not be making a new peace push during his trip, but his talks are expected to cover a new French initiative, and there were reports Tuesday that the White House may yet make another bid to galvanize progress in the final months of the Obama administration.
The vice president’s arrival came hours after the White House expressed public “surprise” that the Israeli prime minister had rejected an offer to meet with US President Barack Obama later this month, and said it only learned Netanyahu was canceling his trip to the United States from the media.
In a sign of yet another round of tension between the Israeli and American leaderships, the administration also publicly rejected earlier Israeli reports that the White House had been unable to schedule a time for the meeting as “false.”
The tiff, punctuated by pointed statements from both Washington and Jerusalem, threatened to once again ruffle feathers in the often-testy relationship between Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration.
Netanyahu’s office said it had informed the White House last week that the trip would likely not go forward. A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel key issues could be discussed with Biden instead.
“The thinking is that we’re seeing Biden this week and the assumption is that in the discussion with Biden all the issues will come up,” the official said.
Biden’s trip to Israel is his second diplomatic visit since a trip in 2010 was marred by the announcement of a major Israeli building project over the pre-1967 lines in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. The US opposes Israeli building over the pre-1967 Green Line.
According to a diplomatic cable leaked last month, the episode sparked a rift between Jerusalem and Washington, with Netanyahu then asking European leaders to help patch up ties with Obama.
On Monday, Biden kicked off his Middle East trip with a visit to Abu Dhabi, where he vowed that the United States and its allies would destroy and “squeeze the heart” of the Islamic State group.
Stuart Winer, Raphael Ahren, AFP and AP contributed to this report.