On Sunday morning, after news outlets projected that Joe Biden had won the US presidential election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted the “long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years” that he’s had with Biden and called the former vice president “a great friend of Israel.”
The years that Netanyahu was referring to was primarily Biden’s career as a senator which began in 1972 and lasted until January 2009, just before he assumed the position of vice president after his election to the office on the ticket with President Barack Obama.
During the two terms of the Obama presidency, Netanyahu told me on two occasions that he had tried to use “the friendly offices” of the vice president to break through the “obstinate determination” of Obama to act in ways which the Israeli premier viewed as especially problematic.
The first time that Netanyahu hoped that Biden’s friendship could make a difference was when the president announced early in his first term that he would visit Egypt and deliver a major address in Cairo in June 2009 directed to the Muslim world but would not visit Israel.
Netanyahu himself had just returned to the Prime Minister’s Office at the end of March, following his earlier term from 1996 to 1999.
The prime minister told me at the time of the Obama visit to Egypt that he had earlier asserted to the vice president: “Joe, you should be concerned that there are those in the Arab and Muslim world who will view this as a slap in Israel’s face.”
The second time that Netanyahu told me that he had turned to Biden was in late February 2015, during the second term of the Obama administration.
It was just before the showdown between the the US president and Israeli prime minister, when Netanyahu would come to Washington to address the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby national policy conference, did not receive a meeting with the president, a Democrat, but did appear before the US Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner of the Republican Party.
Obama urged Netanyahu not to do it but the prime minister went ahead with the Congressional speech and blasted the Iran nuclear deal that was in the making.
“I told him that he was in a unique position to prevent a diplomatic incident,” Netanyahu told me afterward that he had said to Biden. “You are our friend; do something. Use your sway with the president,” the prime minister said he urged the vice president.
“If only Biden was president,” Netanyahu added with an exasperated tone, in his brief chat with me at the time. He explained that he viewed the vice president’s approach as one of “loyalty to his boss.”
The prime minister says he gave up hope that he could ever get Biden to alter Obama’s policy in any “significant” manner, though he and the vice president maintained a dialogue in a way which Netanyahu believes had a positive impact, at least in “improving the atmosphere and preventing things from getting even worse.”
The prime minister did not elaborate on what Biden might have done to prevent the Netanyahu-Obama relationship from deteriorating even further.
But he said that he viewed the vice president “as our friend in the Obama administration, a real mensch.”
Of course, Netanyahu’s wish that Biden would be president was in comparison to Obama. Since then, the Israeli prime minister has worked alongside Donald Trump as US president.
The prime minister still considers Biden a friend on a personal level and of the State of Israel.
But when such issues as the future of the Iran nuclear deal and Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria come up for discussion, will Netanyahu change his tune and instead lament: ‘if only Trump was still president?’