Outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned U.S. President Joe Biden during their meeting on Monday that Washington's plans to draw down troops in the Middle East will make moderate Arab nations forge closer ties with Iran.
According to one diplomatic source, Rivlin presented Biden with information about overtures Iran has begun making to countries located in the Arabian Peninsula during its efforts to create new alliances.
Rivlin also requested precision-guided weapons for the Israeli military, explaining that Hamas has begun placing its military facilities next to kindergartens, schools, and hospitals, making it difficult for the army to do anything about them. A diplomatic source said Rivlin also asked for assistance in modernizing equipment possessed by the military, including helicopters used to attack ISIS targets in the Sinai Desert. According to this source, those present in the meeting told Rivlin that they had been impressed with Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who visited Washington last week.
Some contentious issues were not raised during the meeting: Neither U.S. concern over alleged provocations by Jews in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood nor Israel's demand that reconstruction in Gaza be tied to the return of the Israeli civilians and remains of soldiers held by Hamas were discussed. One thing that did come up was Israel's new government, which Rivlin portrayed as a turning point, noting that an Arab political party had joined a governing coalition for the first time.
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Rivlin's meeting with Biden at the White House on Monday came less than two weeks before he is set to end his seven-year term on July 9. During the meeting, Biden promised that under his administration, Iran would never get a nuclear weapon. The White House said Biden also assured Rivlin that Washington "remains determined to counter Iran’s malign activity and support for terrorist proxies, which have destabilizing consequences for the region."
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration was planning on withdrawing antimissile systems from stations across the Middle East, as well as hundreds of troops. The report, confirmed by administration officials to the paper, said that the Pentagon will withdraw around eight Patriot antimissile batteries from countries including Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. will also reduce the number of fighter jet squadrons in Saudi Arabia, as well as ordering the removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, from the kingdom.
Biden announced in April that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan would withdraw by September 11. The departure of the bulk of the more than 4,000 troops that have been in the country in recent months is unfolding well before that deadline. Roughly 650 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Before meeting with Biden, Rivlin met with the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. On Tuesday morning, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set out to the UAE on his first official visit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.