US secretary of state: Israel’s group of friends to grow wider in years ahead

In Independence Day message, Antony Blinken says US will urge more countries to normalize, lauds Jerusalem’s vaccine effort, vows to strengthen all parts of bilateral relationship

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, April 5, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, April 5, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

In an Independence Day message to Israelis on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he expects more countries to normalize ties with the Jewish state in the coming years.

Blinken lauded the normalization deals Israel struck in the past year, naming Morocco and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in particular.

“The US welcomes and supports the recent normalization agreements,” the secretary of state said in a prerecorded message. “We will continue to urge more countries to normalize relations with Israel and will look for other opportunities to expand cooperation among countries in the region. As a result, I expect Israel’s group of friends to grow even wider in the years ahead.”

The normalization agreements brokered by the Trump administration were a rare point of agreement between the two rival US campaigns ahead of the November presidential election. However, while Biden’s administration officials have described the agreements as a positive development for the region, they expressed hesitance with regards to some of the gestures that former US President Donald Trump agreed to take in order to seal the agreements.

One such move was a $23 billion arms sale to the first country that agreed to normalize ties with Israel — the United Arab Emirates — that will include 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets. Critics in the Democratic Party expressed concern that the sale risked Israel’s military advantage in the region, and the Biden administration placed a temporary hold on the purchase to review the details before giving it a final go-ahead earlier this week.

This is not the first time that Biden officials have expressed their intention to expand the list of countries who have ties with Israel, but analysts have speculated that it might be a taller task for the new administration, which is unlikely to okay major arms deals or upend international norms in exchange for governments agreeing to recognize the Jewish state. However, a US official confirmed to The Times of Israel that the administration will appoint a special team to further advance such agreements.

Blinken, in his Independence Day message, also made a point to laud Israel’s vaccine effort. “But it’s allowed Israel once again to demonstrate its resilience, strength and compassion, whether by leading the world in your vaccine rate or making new friends from Morocco to Bhutan,” he said.

“In your 73rd year of freedom, we salute Israel’s determination, bravery and ingenuity, which have made possible your country’s prosperity and hard-won security,” the secretary continued. “The US commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and together, we’re at work strengthening all aspects of our partnership, just like we’ve been doing since the United States first recognized Israel in 1948.”

“Yom Ha’atzmaut sameach!” he concluded.

The speech was played at an Independence Day virtual event hosted by the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Tuesday evening.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan told viewers, “I intend to work in the coming year with the US administration, in every way possible, to expand the circle of peace. I am certain that there will be more countries in the region who will choose the path of peace and coexistence with Israel.”

The event was also attended by senior Congressional leadership from both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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