Aug 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Kabul crisis complicates Israeli prime minister's White House visit

Photo of a masked Lloyd Austin and Naftali Bennett touching elbows
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) greets Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday at the Pentagon. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will visit the White House Friday, a day later than originally planned, and he'll find a president in distress.

Why it matters: This is not how the new prime minister imagined his first meeting with President Biden. An hour before he was supposed to walk into the Oval Office, disaster struck in Kabul.

Behind the scenes: Bennett and his advisers were getting ready to leave the Willard Hotel, just down the street from the White House, on Thursday when the first reports of explosions at the Kabul airport started coming in, per Bennett’s aides.

  • Fifteen minutes before the meeting’s 11:30am start time, the White House called Bennett’s aides and asked them to hold.
  • Bennett’s advisers told their White House counterparts that they understood the situation and that Bennett would accommodate himself to Biden's schedule.
  • An hour later, the White House told Bennett’s aides the meeting would be postponed, without providing a time. After waiting for three hours at the hotel, the White House told Bennett’s staff that the meeting was rescheduled for Friday morning.
  • Bennett issued a statement saying Israel stood with the U.S.
  • Biden called Bennett on Thursday evening to thank him for his understanding and Bennett offered his condolences to the American people, the prime minister's office said.

What’s next: Bennett was planning to discuss several issues with Biden: Iran, U.S. military aid to Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s request to enter the U.S. visa waiver program.

  • But after the Kabul attack, it is unclear whether Biden will have the time and attention span for such a discussion.
  • However, the current crisis could help Bennett accomplish his goals of “resetting” the U.S.-Israel relationship and developing a relationship with Biden. Amid the current turmoil, Biden can use any support he can get.

What’s next: Bennett had to postpone his flight back to Israel, but won't travel on the Jewish Sabbath. That means he will fly back to Israel on Saturday evening.

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