Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has twice blocked Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from traveling to the US in recent weeks, apparently because the premier has not yet received an invitation to the White House himself, Israeli television reported Wednesday.
Channel 12 news, citing an American and an Israeli source, said Netanyahu indicated to Gallant that he should not accept two invitations to Washington and New York for meetings with security officials.
The report said barring the defense minister from visiting the US, Israel’s principal ally, was unusual and could have security implications.
However, the network also noted that Gallant recently met top US defense officials in Israel, including the top American general in the Middle East last week.
Over four months since he returned to power, the White House has refrained from inviting Netanyahu amid concern over his government’s judicial overhaul and hard-right agenda, particularly relating to the West Bank.
Gallant’s office refused to comment on the report, while Netanyahu’s office called it inaccurate.
In March, Netanyahu announced he was firing Gallant after the latter gave a speech warning against the security implications of the planned shakeup of the judicial system. The move was met with mass demonstrations and a general strike, leading Netanyahu to pause the overhaul bills to allow for talks on judicial reform with the opposition.
Two weeks later, Netanyahu reinstated Gallant amid a spike in violence that include rocket fire from Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip, and a series of deadly Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Previously, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu told all ministers to avoid visiting the US and if they do, to not meet government officials there until he gets an invitation from US President Joe Biden.
The network has said that Netanyahu has similarly instructed cabinet members not to travel to the United Arab Emirates until he is invited to visit.
The television report Wednesday came after a Biden administration spokesman said that Netanyahu will be invited to the White House at some point, but reiterated that no such visit is currently in the works.
The comment followed a pledge by Republican US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, during a visit to Israel, to invite Netanyahu to Washington if Biden continues to refuse to do so.
After speaking to the Knesset plenum on Monday, McCarthy said at a press conference that it would be appropriate for Netanyahu to visit Washington, but added that such a visit would be conducted in a bipartisan manner, with meetings with Republicans and Democrats.
“I expect the White House to invite the prime minister over for a meeting especially because of Israel’s 75th anniversary,” McCarthy said.
Asked whether he would invite the prime minister to address Congress if no White House invitation was forthcoming, McCarthy said “Yes” and noted that he had “a long relationship with the prime minister.”
McCarthy made similar comments in a Sunday interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, saying Biden has already waited “too long now. He should invite him soon.”
Just hours after Netanyahu announced a pause in the overhaul legislation in order to allow for negotiations in late March, Biden told reporters that he hoped the prime minister would “walk away” from the current legislative proposals and that he would not be inviting Netanyahu to Washington “in the near term.”
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi acknowledged on Friday that Netanyahu’s White House invitation has likely not come because of the judicial overhaul, but stressed that US-Israel ties remain strong.
“It is clear to me that if there was no legal reform, Netanyahu would already have visited the White House,” Hanegbi told Channel 12.