With US President Joe Biden set to land at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday afternoon, police began to deploy for ]road closures and a massive security operation that is set to disrupt the lives of many in Jerusalem and central Israel.
Police have said sections of Route 1, the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, will be shut for a number of hours in both directions between the Shapirim Interchange and the entrance to the capital on Wednesday afternoon.
Traffic began building up near the airport from around noon, and police asked motorists to avoid the area and to refrain from driving to Jerusalem unless necessary.
There were also multiple temporary road closures within Jerusalem, with a focus on Biden’s planned travel routes and King David Street, where the US president and his delegation will be staying.
Security arrangements for the visit, officially titled “Blue Shield 3,” include over 16,000 police officers, Border Police officers and volunteers.
The operation has been drilled over a number of days and restrictions include a ban on all private aircraft, including drones, in the airspace of Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem throughout Biden’s visit.
Meanwhile, preparations were also underway at Ben Gurion Airport where the red carpet was readied for the welcome ceremony, in which Biden will be greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, along with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
According to Kan news, Lapid’s office insisted on a change in protocol so that Bennett could be alongside the prime minister on the red carpet.
The Americans have requested a simple ceremony at the airport and Biden will not be greeted by a long line of notables when he arrives in Israel.
Ministers were told in writing 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.”
Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia marks his first time in the Middle East as US president, but his tenth visit to Israel overall. Originally scheduled for late June, his trip was pushed back to this week.
After landing on Wednesday, Biden will tour several Israeli security systems with Defense Minister Benny Gantz 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 conflict with Gaza terror groups.
Biden’s tour will include the in-development 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.
Following the weapons tour, Biden is set to head to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for a brief tour.
He will be accompanied on that visit by Lapid, who has invited Gantz to accompany them, the Walla news site reported. Both Lapid and Gantz are the sons of Holocaust survivors.
While at Yad Vashem, Biden will also meet with two Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States after World War II. Biden will be accompanied by a number of officials including US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and the United States special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, Deborah Lipstadt.
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 Bennett, who met Biden twice during his year as premier.
No major announcement from either side is expected.
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.
Biden is expected to receive the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor from Herzog.
The president is set to finish the day by attending at least part of 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. It will be the first visit by a sitting US president to the largely Palestinian section of the capital outside of the Old City.
Biden will then hold a meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, following which the two will make a statement to the press.
Biden will depart for Saudi Arabia on Friday afternoon.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.