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Bennett Attempts U.S.-Israel Reset

The new Israeli prime minister will attempt a softer tone than his predecessor as he visits Biden’s White House.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett listens to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett listens during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington on Aug. 25. Olivier DOULIERY/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the White House, Islamic State threats complicate Kabul evacuation efforts, and South Korea becomes first major Asian economy to raise interest rates since pandemic began. 

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Bennett Visits the White House

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the White House, Islamic State threats complicate Kabul evacuation efforts, and South Korea becomes first major Asian economy to raise interest rates since pandemic began. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Bennett Visits the White House

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the White House today as he seeks to establish a new tone for the U.S.-Israel relationship following 12 years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership.

What Bennett wants. Only two months into the job, Bennett needs this visit a lot more than Biden. As the leader of a shaky coalition government with only a one-seat majority, a picture of ease and rapport with Israel’s closest ally could serve to undercut Netanyahu’s claim to understand U.S. politics better than any Israeli politician.

Although a relative novice on the world stage, Bennett should at least feel comfortable in the country he spent years in during his youth and where he made his considerable fortune as an adult. He’s also had time to warm up for today’s White House visit by holding meetings on Wednesday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Bidens agenda. For Biden, today’s visit is a chance to project calm and steady leadership as he continues to endure a media and political onslaught for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and ensuing Taliban takeover. After making his case last week, the Biden administration has been on the offensive, casting the evacuation of more than 80,000 people in the past few weeks as an achievement on par with the 1948 to 1949 Berlin airlift.

Biden’s team has described Bennett’s visit in lofty terms, going beyond the bilateral relationship to portray it as an endorsement of the democratic system itself, with one unnamed senior administration official casting Bennett’s diverse government as part of Biden’s broader goal of “demonstrating that democracies can deliver for their people” and showing “that people with divergent backgrounds and views can come together to solve big problems.”

Long-term problems. As Biden and Bennett both aim for a smooth day’s work, the long-term challenges facing the U.S.-Israel relationship remain daunting. A new survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found only 37 percent of Americans polled considered Israel “an ally” (60 percent of Republicans did versus only 22 percent of Democrats).

More immediately worrying for Israel was support for conditioning U.S. military aid, with 50 percent in favor and 45 percent against. (Of Democrats, 62 percent supported conditioning military aid so it cant be used in operations against Palestinians while an almost equal proportion of Republicans opposed such a move.)

The Iran divide. Although Bennett is expected to avoid the partisan theatrics of his predecessor, his approach to Iran so far appears largely unchanged. However, he has shown signs of openness to new ideas to reduce tensions with Washington, as Or Rabinowitz explained in a recent Foreign Policy article. Bennett is expected to brief Biden on a plan to continue covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear program while aligning a group of like-minded Arab nations to counter Iran’s regional influence.

What We’re Following Today 

Seoul raises rates. On Thursday, South Korea became the first major Asian economy to raise interest rates since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as its central bank increased the cost of borrowing from 0.5 to 0.75 percent. The move follows worries over rising inflation and could mark the beginning of a return to higher interest rates across advanced economies as stimulus campaigns wane. U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will signal the direction of U.S. monetary policy on Friday in a speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual symposium.

Islamic State in Kabul. The threat of attack from Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate is complicating U.S. efforts to evacuate its remaining citizens and Afghans as U.S. forces race toward an Aug. 31 withdrawal date. On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy—along with the British and Australian governments—warned citizens to stay away from Kabul’s airport, going so far as to warn Americans to avoid certain entrances to the airport. Australia has offered similar advice, as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told citizens to “shelter in place” and await further instructions.

Keep an Eye On

Irans top diplomat. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s choice for foreign minister was approved by Iran’s parliament on Wednesday, giving Hossein Amirabdollahian control of the country’s foreign ministry ahead of a likely resumption of talks in Vienna aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. Tweeting following his confirmation, Amirabdollahian said he would pursue “balanced, active, & smart diplomacy,” saying Iran’s immediate neighbors and Asia were his first priorities. As Amirabdollahian settles in as Iran’s top diplomat, he faces a pressing choice on whether to retain Iranian diplomat Abbas Araghchi as the country’s chief negotiator at the nuclear talks.

Global COVID-19 cases. The number of global coronavirus cases appears to be leveling off following weeks of increases, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 4.5 million new cases last week, roughly the same amount as the week before. WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the numbers are “stable at a very high level” and the virus remains a threat. The relative flattening out of new cases comes as the United States saw the most new cases and deaths of any country last week, as cases in the country increased 15 percent from the previous week.

Odds and Ends

Seoul’s education office is ready to force schools to relax dress codes after a review found a high proportion still adhere to an all-white sock and underwear policy, a regulation that interferes with students’ right to self-expression. City authorities found nearly 25 percent of girls in middle and high schools have sock and underwear restrictions despite a city ordinance, introduced in 2012, designed to allow students to choose their own clothing and hairstyles.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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