Biden took the advice to heart. Cameras caught him waiting for him at Ben-Gurion International Airport as he fist-slapped Israeli leaders, though locals initially stretched out their hands in expectation of a handshake. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was right behind Biden, hugging some of his Israeli counterparts.
But after making remarks on the tarmac, Biden shook hands with former Israeli Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The new policy was announced at a good time. Biden’s team knows the most damning image of the trip would be one of the presidents shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who US intelligence agencies said orchestrated the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and US resident . The doctor’s sudden order minimizes the risk of such an image flashing across TV screens in the coming days.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to answer press questions about why the infamous Biden would put down his handshake.
“We always take precautions on these trips,” she said, despite Biden’s non-glare shaking hands with leaders at last month’s NATO summit in Madrid. It wasn’t long ago, either, that the President slapped Democrats on the back before and after his State of the Union address.
But hearing the government say it shakes hands with the president on his trip is none of their business.
“It depends on his doctor,” said Jean-Pierre.
Another White House spokesman, who spoke to POLITICO before Sullivan and the press secretary went on the record, said, “There are standard precautions in these trips, including his negative tests before the flight and throughout the trip as a regular cadence — and his doctor.” has noted some additional precautions.”
Still, none of this will dissuade critics that Biden’s team is treating him with kid gloves. The visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia were supposed to come after the NATO summit in June, but US officials reportedly felt a 10-day marathon would be too tiring for the 79-year-old president.
Of course, Biden could welcome the outstretched hand of the crown prince in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, or even accept the warm embrace of Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. After all, Biden is known for a close and personal approach to politics.
So what happens in the Middle East is ultimately in the hands of the President.