The Biden administration is just passing its 100-day mark, and still: no nomination for U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Is this President Biden’s way of signaling to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it’s a new day in U.S.-Israeli relations? A way to underscore that even though Israel does not like it, the new U.S. government is pressing ahead with negotiations to return to the Iran nuclear accord?
Former President Trump announced his nomination for ambassador to Israel before nightfall of his inauguration day. David Friedman, a Trump bankruptcy lawyer with no experience in diplomacy but plenty in activism, was the forewarning that U.S. policy in the Middle East was being turned on its head and becoming unabashedly biased in favor of Israel.
Several other presidents simply left sitting ambassadors — less staunchly political partisans — to finish out their terms before appointing envoys of their own.
Biden’s delay in nominating an ambassador follows the unusual amount of time he waited to telephone Netanyahu, even as he spoke to dozens of other world leaders.
Definitely, say veteran diplomats and experts in the region, Biden is making known that Israel, while still an important ally to the U.S., will no longer have the carte blanche it enjoyed under Trump nor become an obsessed-upon foil as it was under President Obama.
“The air has been let out of that balloon,” said former Middle East envoy Aaron David Miller, who worked for Democratic and Republican administrations.
Talks this week at the Israeli Embassy in Washington between Jake Sullivan, national security advisor, and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat are said to have eased some tensions after Israel reportedly took actions to sabotage an Iranian uranium-enrichment plant — and possibly U.S. talks with Iran. An attack on the Natanz plant, which the Iranians blamed on Israel, happened just as Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited Israel.
It is likely that Biden will nominate his ambassador to Israel as part of a package of other nominees, another attempt to put the diplomatic relationship in a new context.
Among the potential candidates:
Daniel Shapiro. The former ambassador to Israel under Obama was initially at the top of many people’s lists. Shapiro is highly regarded among foreign policy experts and has the ability to deftly deal with Israelis at a time when a lot of soothing diplomacy will be necessary, especially over Iran.
Currently a visiting fellow at a Tel Aviv think tank, Shapiro, 51, is a veteran of Democratic administrations and once worked for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a foreign policy advisor. Some observers say, however, he is not considered part of the Biden inner circle, and the president may not want to repeat an Obama pick.
Thomas Nides. Nides, who appears to be emerging as a front-runner for the job, would bring private-sector expertise as well as a diplomatic portfolio. Nides, 60, served as deputy secretary of…