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Blinken speaks with Bennett, Lapid, vows support for Israel amid political turmoil

US secretary of state affirms ‘respect for democratic processes’ in Israel and ‘unwavering commitment’ to strong ties with Jerusalem

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke on the phone Tuesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who promised strong support for Israel, and highlighted shared opposition to Iran, as Israel heads to its fifth election in under four years.

Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday that they plan to dissolve their own government. The earliest the Knesset can disband is Wednesday, although a more likely scenario would be Monday of next week. Lapid will become the caretaker prime minister once the process is complete.

“I spoke with [Bennett] today regarding the dissolution of the Knesset, underscoring our respect for democratic processes, our unwavering commitment to the strong US-Israeli strategic relationship, and our mutual concerns about Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Blinken said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that Blinken had “emphasized he looks forward to continuing our close coordination on regional and global issues,” and that US President Joe Biden is looking forward to his visit to Israel next month. The US previously confirmed that Biden will go forward with the visit despite the political turmoil in Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, Blinken spoke on the phone with Lapid. The calls were the first between the top US diplomat at the Israeli leaders since Bennett and Lapid’s decision to disperse the Knesset.

Once the Knesset’s disbandment is finalized, Lapid will assume the premiership at least until elections, which will likely take place in the fall.

Lapid’s office said he and Blinken spoke about Biden’s visit, saying it was “an opportunity to emphasize the president’s deep personal connection to Israel, to America’s commitment to Israel’s security, and to strengthening Israel in the region.”

“The visit has significant implications for the region and for the struggle against Iran, and great potential to significantly upgrade regional stability and security,” Lapid’s office said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and then-Opposition chairman Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (Yair Lapid/Twitter)

Lapid said he also updated Blinken on his upcoming trip to Turkey “and on the joint activity with the Turkish government against terrorism.”

The Israeli readout notably made no mention of the country’s political turmoil, which was the main focus of the statement from Blinken’s office.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides confirmed on Monday that Biden will go through with the visit to Israel next month. If the legislative process moves forward as expected, Lapid will be prime minister when Biden lands in Israel on July 13 for his first visit as president.

Price told reporters earlier on Tuesday, “The strength of our relationship does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office. It doesn’t depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair in Israel.” The snap election could see a comeback by Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a tense relationship with former US president Barack Obama, under whom Biden was vice president.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week, before the announcement of the Knesset’s disbandment, that while in Israel Biden would meet with Bennett, Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

It has also been traditional for US presidents to meet with the head of the opposition, particularly during an election cycle. This would mean a potential sit-down between Biden and Netanyahu, who have had a long relationship, albeit with no shortage of political disputes.

Biden is scheduled to spend two days in Israel and the West Bank before stopping in Saudi Arabia to participate in the annual meeting of the GCC+3 with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan.

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