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Biden to forgo meet and greet with Israeli dignitaries at sweltering tarmac welcome

Officially, VIPs told ban due to scheduling issues and hot weather, but some speculate on effort to prevent repeat of shenanigans when Trump arrived in 2017

A worker at the President's Residence prepares for the upcoming visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A worker at the President's Residence prepares for the upcoming visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Roll up the red carpet: US President Joe Biden will not be greeted by a long line of notables when he arrives in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, government ministers heard Monday, in a break from the traditional welcome afforded leaders in the past.

Ministers were told in writing Monday that “because of scheduling pressure, COVID, and the hot weather, the US president will not shake hands with the invited [guests at the airport arrival ceremony], and there will be no opportunity for personal photographs.”

The lawmakers were still invited to attend the welcoming ceremony, set to take place after Biden lands at Ben Gurion Airport soon after 3 p.m.

He will be greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett possibly speaking as well, the Hebrew media reports said.

Biden’s requests for a simple airport ceremony were first reported last month, with media speculating that it could be an attempt to avoid a repetition of an incident that took place in May 2017, when then-MK Oren Hazan pushed his way through the line of dignitaries at the airport to snatch a selfie with then-US president Donald Trump.

Hazan, who was a controversial member of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, was not supposed to be among those designated to shake Trump’s hand, but somehow managed to make his way into the line.

He later posted the picture on his Facebook page with the caption, “Thank you Mr. President — it was my pleasure!”

The incident drew condemnation from other Israeli officials, deeming the stunt “a real embarrassment.”

Then-US president Donald Trump poses for a selfie with then-MK Oren Hazan at Ben Gurion Airport on May 22, 2017. (Oren Hazan)

Summer heat — temperatures near the airport are expected to reach close to 32º C (90º F) when Biden arrives — and the age of the 79-year-old leader were also considered factors in the decision.

The schedule for Biden’s upcoming two-day trip to Israel and the West Bank has been all but finalized, and while it will be the longtime lawmaker’s 10th trip to the Jewish state, the itinerary will include a number of firsts for the US leader.

After landing on Wednesday, Biden will tour several Israeli security systems with Defense Minister Benny Gantz; this event was initially to be held at the Palmachim air force base in central Israel, but will now also be held at Ben Gurion Airport. The show-and-tell will include an Iron Dome missile defense battery, in a nod to US efforts to grant Israel an additional $500 million in replacement batteries for the system after last year’s Gaza war.

US President Joe Biden, with First Lady Jill Biden, salutes Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. David Bowling, as they arrive at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington from a weekend trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, July 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Biden’s tour will include the Iron Beam laser rocket defense system, which is designed to work in tandem with systems like Iron Dome and shoot down smaller projectiles.

The president will also announce his approval for the US military-industrial complex to begin talks with Israeli counterparts about purchasing Iron Beam, a senior US official told The Times of Israel.

A non-final timetable for US President Joe Biden’s July 13-15 visit to Israel, as published by the Kan broadcaster on July 11, 2022

Following the weapons tour, Biden is set to head to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for a brief tour.

On Thursday morning, Biden will hold a meeting with Lapid, after which the two will deliver statements to the press. Also in attendance for part of this sit-down will be Lapid’s predecessor, Bennett, who met Biden twice during his year as premier.

No major announcement from either side is expected. Biden is slated to reserve most of his remarks regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for his Friday meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Biden will then meet with Herzog, followed by a short session with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, which was added to the schedule last month in order to avoid the perception that the US was picking sides ahead of the November 1 Israeli election.

The president is set to finish the day by attending the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Jewish Olympic games, alongside Lapid and Herzog.

On Friday morning, Biden will head to the Augusta Victoria Hospital on East Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, according to an Israeli source familiar with the matter. It will be the first visit by a sitting US president to the largely Palestinian section of the capital outside of the Old City.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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