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Bennett says he has invited Biden to visit Israel ‘after Delta variant defeated’

PM tells reporters he ‘found a leader who loves Israel, is attentive to our needs’; praises president’s commitment to curb Iran but warns: ‘there isn’t a lot of time’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they unfolded.

US official: IS member survived initial strike in Afghanistan, was killed in second

A US official says a member of Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate appeared to survive an initial drone strike aimed at the vehicle in which he was riding. A second strike killed him, the official says, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet publicly released.

The airstrike was launched from beyond Afghanistan, less than 48 hours after the devastating Kabul attack that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans, with just days left in a final US withdrawal after 20 years of war. US Central Command says that it believes its strike killed no civilians.

Bennett holds Shabbat service for Israeli delegation at DC hotel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett organized a Kabbalat Shabbat service for the entire Israeli delegation, including the traveling press, at the hotel where they are staying in Washington.

The delegation was not scheduled to stay the weekend, but after Bennett’s meeting with US President Joe Biden was delayed due to the deadly terror attack in Kabul, the premier’s team made arrangements for him to spend Shabbat at the hotel, including setting up a makeshift synagogue.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greets members of the traveling press who are with him on his US trip, at a Friday evening sabbath service organized for the Israeli delegation at their Washington hotel. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Bennett says he’s invited Biden to Israel ‘immediately after Delta variant defeated’

WASHINGTON — Briefing Israeli reporters after his meeting with US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he invited the president to visit Israel after the ongoing pandemic wave resides.

“I invited the president to Israel after we defeat the Delta variant,” Bennett says.

“I am truly grateful to the president and his entire staff on their determination to carry out the meeting. [Biden] said immediately [after the delay] that in any event we would have a full meeting,” Bennett tells reporters.

“It was a wonderful meeting, especially the one-on-one,” says Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in subsequent briefing with Israeli reporters. “It was mostly a working meeting. There was a feeling that we’ve known each other for a long time. I found a leader who loves Israel, knows exactly what he wants, and is attentive to our needs.”

“Both President Biden and I are determined that Iran won’t ever get a nuclear weapon. I am happy that we agree on the goal. Our staffs will work in the coming days, weeks, and months to develop channels of cooperation.”

“I must say there isn’t a lot of time. The subject is urgent, and cannot be pushed aside.”

Biden after Bennett meet: We strengthened the partnership between our countries

“It was an honor to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the White House today. We strengthened the enduring partnership between our two nations and underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” US President Joe Biden tweets.

Turkey holds first talks with the Taliban in Kabul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his government has held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul, adding that Ankara was still assessing the Islamist group’s offer to run the Afghan capital’s airport.

The Turkish leader says the talks were held at a military section of the Kabul airport where the Turkish embassy is temporarily stationed.

“We have held our first talks with the Taliban, which lasted 3.5 hours,” Erdogan tells reporters. “If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such talks again.”

Responding to domestic criticism over Turkey’s engagement with the insurgent group, Erdogan said Ankara had “no luxury” to stand idly by in the volatile region.

“You cannot know what their expectations are or what our expectations are without talking. What’s diplomacy, my friend? This is diplomacy,” Erdogan says.

Turkey had been planning to help secure and run Kabul’s strategic airport, but on Wednesday, it started pulling troops out of Afghanistan — an apparent sign of Ankara abandoning this goal.

White House says it has no plan for quick recognition of Taliban gov’t

The White House dismisses any chance of rapid recognition for a Taliban government by the United States or its allies.

“I want to be really clear: there’s no rush to recognition of any sort by the United States or any international partners we have talked to,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki tells reporters.

The United States is in close contact with its former enemy as it tries to complete the risky operation to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan at the end of a 20-year war.

Biden told another Kabul terror attack ‘likely’

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden’s national security team has told him that another terror attack is “likely” in Kabul, and that “maximum force protection” measures are being taken at the airport in the Afghan capital.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki does not go into detail on the assessment Biden received from his team one day after a suicide bomber killed 13 US servicemembers and scores of Afghans outside the airport.

Psaki says the next few days of the mission to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans fleeing Taliban rule “will be the most dangerous period to date.”

Biden has said that he intends to complete the evacuation by his Tuesday deadline.

Israeli embassy builds improvised synagogue in Bennett’s hotel for Sabbath

The Israeli embassy in Washington DC has arranged a synagogue at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel for Naftali Bennett and his entourage to pray in over the Sabbath.

White House declines to specify what ‘other options’ for dealing with Iran means

Asked to elaborate on US President Joe Biden’s remarks to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that his administration will be willing to pursue “other options” if diplomatic efforts to block Iran from a nuclear bomb fail, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declines to do so.

“I’m not going to outline those from here,” she says during the daily press briefing, insisting that diplomacy is Biden’s first preference and that that is what the White House is currently focused on.

Talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal are expected to reconvene in Vienna next month.

US warns ‘credible threats’ to Kabul airlift after IS attack

The high-risk Kabul airlift operation to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies still faces “specific, credible threats,” the Pentagon says, one day after a suicide bomber targeted the throng trying to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, killing at least 85 people including 13 US servicemen.

“We still believe there are credible threats… specific, credible threats,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby tells reporters.

“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts, absolutely,” he says.

The Pentagon also clarifies that there was one explosion on Thursday, and not two as previously believed.

The blast claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group targeted US forces, but hit hardest the mass of people who had converged on the airport in a desperate bid to escape the Taliban’s feared hardline rule.

At least 72 civilians and 13 American troops were killed, according to various authorities, in an attack that came after a chorus of warnings of an imminent threat to the US-led evacuation effort, with the clock ticking towards an August 31 deadline.

Erdan confident US visa waiver for Israelis forthcoming after Biden meeting

Israeli Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan says he has “no doubt” that the US will grant a waiver for Israelis that will not require them to purchase visas in order to enter the United States.

Erdan made a private pitch on the matter to US President Joe Biden after the latter’s meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, according to Channel 12.

In a statement shortly thereafter, Erdan says he was highly encouraged by the US president’s remarks in the Oval Office to the press that his administration will look into advancing the matter.

“I have no doubt that after president’s words, the effort to allow Israelis free entry into the US without having to waste time and money on visas will finally bear fruit,” Erdan says.

Lapid praises Bennett for ‘successful’ meeting with Biden

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweets his praise for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the latter’s “successful” meeting with US President Joe Biden.

“The friendship between [our] two peoples is also based on the good personal ties between the leaders,” Lapid says. “The prime minister’s successful visit contributes to Israel’s security, its future and its political power.

Bennett said looking to use Kabul bombing to push tougher US stance on Iran

A source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tells Channel 12 that the premier is looking to use yesterday’s Kabul bombing to push Biden to take a more forceful stance against Iran, as the US president faces criticism from Republicans for not being tough enough on terror.

Bennett leaves Oval Office after meeting with Biden, White House aides

Prime Minister Bennett has left the White House after concluding the second meeting with US President Biden that also included both leaders’ aides.

Bennett closes remarks by quoting Isaiah as Biden did yesterday

Prime Minister Bennett finishes his remarks before the media in the Oval Office by quoting the biblical prophet Isaiah. Biden quoted the same prophet in his remarks yesterday following the Kabul blast.

Bennett recites the passage first: “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip,” he says in Hebrew.

He then quips as he prepares to explain it in English, “I can say anything now, right?”

But turning serious again, he says: “What this [passage] means is the sons and daughters of the Jewish people are going to come back to our land, are going to nurse our ancient land and rebuild it. And this ancient Jewish prophecy is today Israel’s reality. And it’s a miracle that you’ve been so central and so part of it for so many years,” Bennett says.

“So, Mr. President, today, you and I — and you’ve been so generous [with your time…] in these difficult days — you and I are going to write yet another chapter in the beautiful story of the friendship between our two nations, the United States of America and the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.

“Both of us who seek to do good and need to be strong. Both of us who are a lighthouse in a very, very stormy world,” he says.

“Thank you, Mr. President. I look forward to working with you now and for many years forward,” Bennett concludes.

Biden thanks him, and says much credit “should go to Barack Obama for making sure that we committed to that qualitative edge you would have relative to your friends in the region. So, he’s the one who deserves the credit [for that].”

“Thank him as well,” says Bennett.

Bennett: I can report to you, Mr. President, that the COVID boosters are working

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says the two sides will also discuss the ongoing pandemic in their subsequent closed-door meeting.

“You were the first to call the pandemic the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ and that could not be more true,” Bennett says.

He notes the “tough decision” he made last month to pioneer the distribution of a third booster shot for Israelis.

“I can report to you, Mr. President, and to everyone that we’ve reached almost three million Israelis that have received the booster shot. And the bottom line is, it’s safe and it works,” he says.

“The good news, finally, is that the tide is turning in Israel,” he says.

Bennett says he’s happy to hear Biden’s commitment to ensure Iran never gets nukes

Bennett, still speaking to the press with Biden in the Oval Office, says the two sides will focus on Iran during their continuing meeting today.

“Obviously, the main issue we’re going to be talking about today here is Iran’s race to a nuclear weapon,” he says.

“We talked about it inside the room [before]. I was happy to hear your clear words that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that you emphasized that you’ll try the diplomatic route, but there’s other options if that doesn’t work out.”

“These very days illustrate what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon — that marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the entire world,” Bennett says, appearing to reference the recent attacks in Afghanistan.

“Iran is the world’s number one exporter of terror, instability and human rights violations. And as we sit here right now, the Iranians are spinning their centrifuges in Natanz and Forgdo. And we’ve got to stop them.”

He says he will present [to Biden] Israel’s two-pronged plan for dealing with Iran that will address both its regional aggression and also “permanently keep Iran away from ever being able to break out to a nuclear weapon.”

Bennett reminds Biden that Israel never has and never will ask the US to send troops to defend Israel. “That’s our job. We will never outsource our security,” he says. “It’s our responsibility to take care of our fate.

“But we do thank you for the tools and the back you’ve been giving us and you’re giving us,” he adds.

 

 

Bennett thanks Biden for helping ‘fortify’ Israel’s strategic advantage in region

Bennett tells Biden that he has arrived in Washington from “Jerusalem, our eternal capital” with a “new spirit of goodwill” and “hope… decency and honesty, a spirit of unity and bipartisanship”.

He, like Biden, notes the diverse nature of the new Israeli government, adding that while some of the members have ideologically opposing views, “we all share the deep passion to work together to build a better future for Israel. We’re out to be good, to do good. But in our region, doing good is not enough. Israel has to be strong… so that we can do good.”

Bennett says “we cannot lose sight for even one moment that we’re in the toughest neighborhood in the world.”

He cites “ISIS on our southern border, Hezbollah on our northern border, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Iranian militias that surround us, and all of them want to kill us, kill Israelis. They all want to annihilate the Jewish state.”

That’s why Israel has always needed to be “overwhelmingly stronger than all of our enemies and indeed of all our enemies combined,” he says, before thanking Biden for “helping yet again to fortify Israel’s strategic advantage”

Bennett to Biden: You’ve always stood up for us, especially in tough times

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opens his remarks in the Oval Office by offering his “condolences and deep sadness” on behalf of the Israeli people to the US over yesterday’s attack in Kabul.

He says the US soldiers killed were there to save lives and that this is the “very definition of courage and sacrifice. May they rest in peace.”

Especially on this day, he says, he wants to stress that Israel “always stands together with the United State of America unequivocally.”

Bennett goes on to thank Biden for his personal support of Israel, noting that “that’s not new.”

“You’ve always stood up for us, especially in tough times,” Bennett says. “That’s when friendship is really tested.”

He highlights Biden’s support for Israel during the May Gaza war.

“We trust in your support, Mr. President, and Israel knows that we have no better or more reliable ally in the world than the United States of America.”

Biden to Bennett: US prefers diplomacy with Iran, but we’ll ensure they never get the bomb

Speaking after their one-on-one meeting, US President Joe Biden tells Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he prefers the diplomatic route to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but if that fails, the US is willing to consider “other options” to ensure Iran “never” gets the bomb.

With the press present, Biden begins with remarks regarding Afghanistan: “Our hearts go out to all those we’ve lost… The mission… has come with a significant loss of American personnel,” he says. “We will complete the mission.”

Turning to Bennett, Biden says: “It’s great to have the prime minister here. We’ve become close friends…

“He heads and leads the most diverse government in Israeli history,” Biden notes.

“We’ve got a big agenda today — starting with the COVID… [discussing] both our successful vaccination programs… We’re considering advice you’ve given that we should start earlier [with booster shots].”

Moving to regional matters, Biden says, “We’re also going to discuss.. the unwavering commitment that we have in the United States to Israel’s security.”

Adds Biden: “I fully, fully, fully support replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome system.”

On Iran, Biden says: “We’re also going to discuss the threat from Iran and our commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. But we’re putting diplomacy first and we’ll see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”

Biden says the US will support Israel’s development of deeper ties with its Arab and Muslim neighbors and the world generally.

“We’re also going to discuss ways to advance peace and security and security for Israelis and Palestinians,” he says.

He also says they’ll “direct our teams” toward getting Israel into the US visa waiver program, “and get that done.”

He thanks Bennett for coming, and says “The US will always be there for Israel. It’s an unshakeable partnership between our two nations.”

He recalls: I’ve known every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, gotten to know them fairly well, and I look forward to establishing a strong personal relationship with you.”

They shake hands.

Bennett-Biden private meeting concludes after 50 minutes

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden have concluded their one-on-one meeting in the White House dining room after 50 minutes.

It was scheduled to last 25 minutes.

The two will now give statements to the press in the Oval Office.

Watch White House statements from Bennett, Biden

After their first meeting at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden are about to give statements from the Oval Office.

Watch it live here (Israel only).

Ra’am said hoping to raise Palestinian issue more once budget passes

The Islamist Ra’am party, which has largely forgone the Palestinian issue in order to enter Naftali Bennett’s government, plans to raise the matter more once a budget is passed later this year, Channel 12 reports.

Bennett-Biden meeting extends beyond allotted time

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden’s private White House meeting has extended past the 25 minutes originally allotted.

After the one-on-one sit down, the two will give brief remarks to the press and answer several questions before the sides will hold an expanded working meeting with their aides.

On the US side, Biden will be joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, NSC Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGuirk, Chargé d’Affaires for the US Embassy in Israel Michael Ratney, and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf.

Bennett will be joined by his National Security Advisor Eyal Haluta, Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo, Chief of Staff Tal Gan Tzvi, Military Secretary Gen, Avi Gil, envoy to the US and UN Gilad Erdan, and foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir.

Biden moves private meeting with Bennett to White House dining room

US President Joe Biden has moved his private meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett from the Oval Office where he greeted the premier to his personal White House dining room.

The change is seen as a personal gesture, allowing the two to schmooze over coffee.

One-on-one Bennett-Biden meeting commences in Oval Office

Prime Minister Bennett and US President Biden have begun their private meeting in the Oval Office.

The meeting is expected to last 20-25 minutes after which they will give brief remarks to the press and answer several questions.

The sides will then have an expanded working meeting with their advisers.

Bennett arrives at White House for Biden meeting

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has arrived at the White House where he will discuss with US President Joe Biden the importance of strength in the Middle East, a source in his delegation says.

Bennett is received at the White House by Acting Chief of White House Protocol, Asel Roberts.

He has signed the White House guest book in the Roosevelt Room before heading into the Oval Office for his private meeting with Biden.

“In the Middle East it’s not enough to just do good,” he will say, according to the source. “If we want to do good, we must be strong.”

Bennett will thank Biden for America’s support of Israel’s national security and will stress that Israel will never ask the US for boots on the ground.

“We will never outsource Israel’s security,” Bennett will also say, according to the source.

Bennett to arrive at White House where flag at half-staff after Kabul blast

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will arrive at the White House where the flag is flying at half-staff following yesterday’s deadly blast in Kabul.

The meeting is facing some delays and Bennett has not yet left his hotel across the street.

PMO reports short delay to Bennett-Biden meeting

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with US President Joe Biden has been slightly delayed by 25 minutes.

Biden is reportedly still being briefed on Afghanistan.

The Biden-Bennett meeting was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. local time.

Bennett will be joined in the White House by National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata, his chief of staff Tal Gan-Zvi, Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo, Military Secretary Avi Gil, Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan and foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir.

Bennett will open Biden meeting by offering his condolences on Kabul attack

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will open his meeting with Joe Biden by offering his condolences on the bombings in Kabul, a source familiar says. “Those Americans lost their lives in a mission saving the lives of others. That is the definition of bravery and sacrifice.”

Bennett will return to the theme of a “new spirit of cooperation” between people who might have disagreements but who can work together to achieve common goals.

Israeli press arrives at White House ahead of Bennett-Biden sit-down

The Israeli press has arrived at the White House ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, which is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m.

Sweden says it has finished its evacuations from Kabul following airport blast

Sweden says it has ended its evacuations out of Kabul, after airlifting more than 1,100 people to Sweden in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Those evacuated included embassy employees and their families, locally employed guards and their families, members of the armed forces and 500 Swedes, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says.

In addition, Sweden also evacuated women’s rights activists, journalists and European Union employees.

But Sweden was unable to assist all those on the “Sweden list” consisting of people seeking help to flee the country.

“The incredibly difficult and risky conditions meant we were not able to evacuate more Swedes and local employees,” Linde tells reporters.

Meanwhile, neighboring Norway, which announced Thursday that it was also ending its evacuations, says today that another 128 people had landed in Oslo, bringing the number of people airlifted by the country to 1,098.

A final plane was expected later in Norway Friday.

UN warns of up to 500,000 more Afghan refugees by year end

The United Nations says it is bracing for a possible exodus from Afghanistan of up to half a million more refugees by the end of 2021.

“We are preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region. This is a worst-case scenario,” Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner of the UN refugee agency, tells reporters.

Spain announces end to its Kabul airlifts after flying out 2,200 people

Spain announces the end of its Kabul evacuations after a nine-day operation that saw more than 2,200 people flown out of the strife-torn country following the Taliban takeover.

The last two planes arrived in Dubai early on Friday, ending an airlift that began on August 18.

“In total, we have managed to evacuate 2,206 people,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says, indicating the number was almost three times higher than expected and hailing the work involved in a mission of “extraordinary complexity.”

“Mission accomplished,” he says while insisting Spain was “not going to abandon the Afghan people”.

He says most of the people evacuated were Afghans, including 1,671 — and their families — who worked for Spain.

Some 333 worked for the European Union, 50 who worked for NATO as well as 21 Portuguese or Afghans working for Portugal. He says another 131 were evacuated on behalf of the United States.

“We stayed in Kabul until the last second while the security of the operation was guaranteed, but we remain committed to… seeking ways to continue evacuating the maximum number of people who worked with Spain and the international community.”

Sanchez says Spain did not have “an exact number” of Afghan collaborators who were left behind but was working on “a way to continue getting them out.”

Death toll from Kabul blast reportedly jumps to 170

The death toll from yesterday’s Kabul airport attack has jumped to 170 people, with nearly 200 others wounded, CBS reports.

Assessments as of this morning in Afghanistan had placed the number at at least 95, with 13 US troops among them.

Biden, Harris holding national security meeting on Afghanistan in Situation Room

US President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are currently meeting with the White House national security team in the Situation Room to discuss Afghanistan.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avil Haines and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were all seen arriving at the White House this morning, CNN reports.

The Afghanistan issue is likely to overshadow Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting that is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m.

Bennett readies for rescheduled White House visit as world’s eyes on Kabul

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is preparing to depart from his hotel in Washington for the White House across the street where he’ll hold his first meeting with US President Joe Biden at 10:30 a.m.

The meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday morning, but the deadly attack in Kabul forced the president to clear his schedule for the rest of the day.

Biden and Bennett will meet one-on-one in the Oval Office, and a brief press spray will take place when they finish. There will then be an expanded working meeting with staff.

Bennett is expected to highlight Israel’s concerns over Iran’s rapid progress toward a nuclear weapon and make the case for why the US should not return to the nuclear deal.

However, the meeting is not expected to go as long as it might have as the president’s attention is likely still on Afghanistan and the ongoing evacuation of Americans amid further threats of ISIS-K attacks.

The meeting delay means Bennett, who had been planning to leave Washington late Thursday, will instead have to spend the weekend in the US capital, leaving on Saturday night. Bennett is an Orthodox Jew and is religiously prohibited from traveling between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday. Secular Israeli leaders have also historically avoided traveling publicly on Shabbat.

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