President Biden has, after a long delay, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington—though no date has been set.
Why now? It cannot have been accidental that the invitation came the day before Israeli President Isaac Herzog was to visit the White House and speak to a joint session of Congress. Herzog comes from the center-left in Israel, the Labor Party, so the warm Biden reception of him is both quite appropriate for any Israeli head of state but also widely perceived as another intervention in Israeli politics. It may also not be accidental that Netanyahu’s recent hospital stay suggested to White House officials, and perhaps even to the president, that playing games about the visit of Israel’s head of government was childish.
It was. North of Israel, Hezbollah continues to prevent selection of a new president for Lebanon and is heating up the border area dangerously. As Gen. Assaf Orion wrote recently,
As the Security Council prepares to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Hezbollah has erected tents and deployed armed men across the Blue Line in the Mount Dov/Shebaa area—the latest in a string of actions that violate the security regime established by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the  war. These illicit activities are blatantly visible to all, as are UNIFIL’s shrinking relevance and the Lebanese military’s collaboration with Hezbollah. Israel has sought to restrain the group’s provocations without deteriorating into all-out war, but its measured approach—coupled with Iran’s growing clout in the region—has only emboldened Hezbollah’s aggression and invited grandstanding from Beirut.
To the east, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are growing in influence in the West Bank and an increasing flow of guns—and of Iranian influence—is increasing the amount of violence and terrorism. The Jerusalem Post carried this report on June 26, 2023:
The [Palestinian security] source said PIJ has become a dominant force in the northern West Bank, largely thanks to the financial aid it receives from Iran “Islamic Jihad is using Iranian money to buy weapons and loyalty in the West Bank,” the source said. “The organization is paying high salaries to its members.” According to the source, the Palestinian Authority has noticed that there is increased cooperation between PIJ gunmen and members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The PA security forces fear that scores of Fatah gunmen belonging to the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are currently on the payroll of Iran – through its Palestinian proxy PIJ, the source added. “Iran is already here, in the West Bank,” a Palestinian official in Ramallah claimed. “The Iranians want their Palestinian agents to extend their control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.”
Meanwhile, Iran has continued to advance its nuclear weapons program. An Atlantic Council report in March, 2023 noted that:
There are three areas where the nuclear risk has increased over the past six months and will continue to grow (absent a deal or de-escalating steps from Iran): (1) expansion of enrichment at Fordow; (2) growth in Iran’s stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium; (3) and a growing monitoring gap.
In those months, and since Mr. Netanyahu entered the prime ministerial post once again last December, the Biden administration has refused him an invitation to Washington. We still do not know when that invitation will actually be translated into a visit. But it is long overdue given the terribly serious matters the two men need to discuss face to face.
The reason for the delay has been Israel’s sharp and deep internal debate over judicial reforms. Mr. Biden had no business taking part in that debate, any more than he should comment on President Macron’s use of extraordinary powers to override parliament and jam his pension reform through the French parliament. Nor should he be commenting (as he has) on the demonstrations in Israel against those reforms, any more than he should comment (as he has not) on the very big and often violent demonstrations in France. (I discussed those issues in this blog here.)
Dangers in the Middle East are too great to allow the sort of diplomatic malpractice we have seen in the refusal to invite Netanyahu to Washington. Biden and Netanyahu have a lot to talk about. The sooner a date is set for the Netanyahu visit, the better.