President Joe Biden received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Honor in a ceremony Thursday evening with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
‘Israel and the United States are both places built on hope, grit and determination,’ Biden said.
The 79-year-old president remarked how he’d been politically involved with Israel for 50 years. Biden started serving in the U.S. Senate in 1973.
‘It can’t be that long,’ he joked.
‘Seeing Israel thrive, seeing the wildest dreams of Israel’s founding fathers and mothers grow in the reality that Israel’s children enjoy today, to me is close to miraculous,’ the president continued.
‘And as a leader I can say without hesitation that being known as a friend of Israel and receiving this award today is among the greatest honors of my career, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,’ Biden added.
Biden said he hoped Israel was able to achieve peace in one of the ‘most dysfunctional’ regions of the world.
Herzog said the U.S. president was receiving the award ‘for his true friendship with the state of Israel, the people of Israel and the Jewish people.’
Earlier, Herzog welcomed Biden to the presidential residence, alongside his wife Michal, where he signed a guest book and posed for pictures with children holding Israeli and American flags.
‘It’s a great day for the Irish,’ Herzog remarked.
President Joe Biden (left) received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Honor in a ceremony Thursday evening with Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right)
President Joe Biden (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right) show off the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor
President Joe Biden remarked at the Presidential Medal of Honor ceremony that he couldn’t believe he’d been involved in Israeli politics for 50 years
President Joe Biden (left) departs the Presidential Medal of Honor ceremony Thursday evening alongside President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal (right)
Herzog’s father Chaim Herzog had also served as president of Israel, which is largely a ceremonial role. He was Irish-born.
Biden often talks about being Irish-American, and concluded the medal ceremony by sharing an Irish poem with the audience.
Prior to the ceremony’s start, attendees were advised not to take pictures with Biden due to COVID-19 concerns.
When arriving in Israel Wednesday, Biden fist-bumped leaders greeting him after the White House said he would be cutting down personal contact on this trip as new COVID variants emerge.
However, Biden’s chummy demeanor soon got the best of him, as he shared a lengthy handshake with opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Biden met with Netanyahu for a closed-door meeting Thursday – for just 21 minutes – between his meeting with Herzog and the medal ceremony.
President Joe Biden (left) shakes hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right) as he arrives at the presidential residence in Jerusalem Thursday
President Joe Biden (right) places his hands on the shoulders of Israeli President Isaac Herzog (center) and First Lady Michal Herzog as he arrives at the residence for a meeting Thursday
President Joe Biden (center) is welcomed to the residence Thursday by Israeli First Lady Michal Herzog (left) and President Isaac Herzog (right)
President Joe Biden (left) signs the guest book as he arrives at the residence Thursday to visit with Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right)
President Joe Biden and Israeli President Isaac Herzog pose for a picture with children waving the American and Israeli flagsat the presidential residence in Jerusalem Thursday
Earlier, at a press confreence with Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid Biden said the clock is ticking on stalled Iran nuclear talks.
‘We’ve laid out for the people – for the leadership of Iran – what we’re willing to accept in order to get back into JCPOA,’ Biden said, using the acronym for the longer name of the Iran deal. ‘We are waiting for the response. When that will come I’m not certain. But we’re not going to wait forever.’
During the press conference, Lapid told Biden that the only way to stop Iran was to ‘put a credible military threat on the table.’
‘Words will not stop them, Mr. President, diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force,’ Lapid said.
‘It should not be a bluff,’ he continued. ‘But the Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world they will pay a heavy price.’
In an interview with Israeli TV that aired Wednesday night, Biden said he was open to using force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
‘If that was a last resort, yes,’ he said.
But during his press conference with Lapid, he said he still preferred diplomacy.
‘I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,’ Biden said. ‘And will continue to work with Israel to counter other threats from Iran throughout the region.’
Lapid downplayed that the leaders had differing views on how to deal with Iran.
‘We have an open discussion about what is the best way to deal with it, but I don’t think there’s a light between us in terms of it’s all a means to an end: we cannot allow Iran to become nuclear,’ Lapid said.
Biden stated the same thing several times Thursday.
‘We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,’ the president said.
President Joe Biden (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) signed a security pledge Thursday saying that they would ensure Iran would not get a nuclear weapon
President Joe Biden (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) held a press conference after signing the joint security pledge
While meeting with Lapid on Thursday, Biden emphasized America’s devotion to its longtime ally as he pushed for more regional cooperation.
‘I talked about how important it was from my perspective for Israel to be totally integrated into the region,’ Biden said of the meeting. ‘I think the vast majority of the American public, not just my administration, is completely devoted to Israel’s security.’
The Biden administration sees stronger Israeli ties to its Muslim neighbors as a key to countering Iran’s growing threat in the region.
Lapid said he was ‘trying to build even more moderate coalitions in the Middle East’ as he worked to make sure there was no nuclear Iran.
‘There will be no nuclear Iran. This is not only a threat to Israel, but to the world, and we discussed some other issues we are going to keep to ourselves,’ Lapid said.
The two leaders signed a joint pledge at the top of the press conference to keep that from happening.
‘The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,’ the pledge reads.
In 2015, Iran signed an international deal capping its nuclear projects with bomb-making potential. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. from the pact – a move Israel supported.
Iran has since ramped up some nuclear activities. Talks are taking place in Vienna to try and get a new deal into place, which Biden is pushing hard for and Israel doesn’t support. Iran has balked at submitting to further curbs.
‘The only thing worse than the Iran which exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons and if we can return to the deal, we can hold them tight,’ Biden said in the Israeli TV interview Wednesdy night.
President Joe Biden, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, at their one-on-one meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday where they pledged to stop a nuclear Iran
After Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of Iran nuclear deal, Tehran started to ramp up its nuclear activity
At Thursday’s meeting, Biden and Lapid were jovial and emphasized the deep ties between the two countries. The show of friendship came the day before Biden leaves for Saudi Arabia.
‘We had a good beginning of a long, God willing, relationship,’ Biden said.
They even joked they had talked baseball.
‘We talked about American baseball,’ Biden told reporters.
A senior administration was asked in a briefing on Wednesday if the U.S. is about buying some time with the Israeli declaration as Washington pursues negotiations with Iran for a new nuclear deal.
The official responded: ‘If Iran wants to sign the deal that has been negotiated in Vienna, we have made very clear we’re prepared to do that. And, at the same time, if they’re not, we will continue to increase our sanctions pressure, we will continue to increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation.’
Biden has been insistent upon rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, even as the Israeli public is largely against it.
‘Because the only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons,’ he said.
Biden continued by saying, ‘I think it was a gigantic mistake for a U.S. president to get out of the deal.’
President Joe Biden is insistent upon rejoining the Iran nuclear deal – a stance he repeated in an interview that aired Wednesday on Israel’s Keshet 12 TV station
President Joe Biden (right) talks to Keshet 12’s Yonit Levi (left) for an interview that aired Wednesday night
‘They’re closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before,’ he added.
Biden also said he was open to using force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
‘If that was a last resort, yes,’ he answered.
Biden is in Isreal through Friday and then heading to Saudi Arabia, for a controversial meeting with Saudi leaders including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known as ‘MBS’ – who was implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
‘The trip is about stability in the Middle East,’ Biden explained. ‘It’s overwhelming in the interest of the United States of America to have more stability in the Middle East, No. 1. It’s overwhelming in the interest of Israel and I think the United States in the region for Israel to be more integrated in the region and accepted as an equal.’
Biden added that some people believed that the United States ‘sort of walked away’ form the Middle East while Trump was president.
‘That we were going to create a vacuum that China and/or Russia would fill, and we can’t let that happen,’ Biden said.
The president continued by saying he believed that ‘the more Isreal is integrated in the region as an equal and accepted the more likely there is going to be a means by which they can come to an accommodation with the Palestinians down the road.’
Biden relented that the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi is ‘going to take a long time.’
‘But increasing the relationship in terms of acceptance of each other’s presence, working together on certain things, it all makes sense to me,’ the president added.
Biden will make history when he flies directly between Israel and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – being the first U.S. president to do so.
During the 13 minute sit-down, Biden also whacked progressives in his party who tried to strip Iron Dome funding out of Congressional spending bills.
‘There are few of them,’ Biden began. ‘I think they’re wrong. I think they’re making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend.’
Biden added that during his administration $4billion in support has been provided to the Israelis for the country’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and the two countries are currently working on a laser system to replace Iron Dome.
Biden was briefed on Iron Dome and its replacement, dubbed Iron Spear, during his first stop in Israel Wednesday.
‘There’s no possibility, I think, of the Democratic Party or even a significant portion of the Republican Party walking away from Israel,’ Biden added.
Among those Biden is meeting with in Isreal is the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s now the opposition party leader.
Netanyahu could come into power again after Israel’s November elections.
He’s been more politically aligned with American Republicans than Democrats.
Still, Biden told Keshet 12’s Yonit Levi he could work with him.
‘Bibi and I have known each other for close to 40 years. We know where we agree, and where we disagree, and we make no bones about it,’ Biden said.
‘I’m dealing with a democratic state that is going through a decision of who they’re going to have as leader,’ he continued, adding that he would work with whomever is elected.
Biden also talked about the importance of the west standing up against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
‘The idea that we would stand by in the West, NATO in particular, and have the largest invasion of physical force in another country since World War Two and stand there, was just not in the cards.’
Biden said the U.S. would support Ukraine for ‘whatever time it takes.’
‘We’re not going to let him prevail,’ he said.
Biden affirmed that it could take months or years at Levi’s suggestion.
When she asked him if he truly believed it could take years the president pushed back, ‘No you said that.’
‘They’re trying to eliminate Ukraine – and we just cannot let that stand,’ Biden said.