Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday passed up an opportunity to knock Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, seemingly deflating President Donald Trump in the presence of reporters in the Oval Office.
The remarks from Netanyahu came on a phone call with Trump, as the American president announced that Sudan would become the third Middle Eastern state to normalize relations with Israel under an agreement brokered by the White House.
Addressing his foreign counterpart, who was on speakerphone, Trump asked Netanyahu: “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi? Sleepy Joe? I think — do you think he would have made this deal somehow? I don’t think so.”
Netanyahu hesitated before offering a halting answer: “Well, Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America. And we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”
The smile on the president’s face faded as he listened to the prime minister’s response. “Yeah,” Trump interjected, gesturing toward a member of the White House press corps to ask a question.
Netanyahu’s refusal to explicitly criticize Biden at Trump’s urging comes 11 days before Election Day in the United States, as virtually all public polling shows the president trailing his Democratic rival nationally and in key swing states.
The prime minister’s apparent effort to put more distance between himself and the president is also notable given the two leaders’ close geopolitical alliance in recent years.
The Trump administration has pursued a Middle East policy largely favoring Israel and focused on safeguarding it from regional threats such as Iran. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has used video of his diplomacy with Trump to promote his Likud Party in Israel’s legislative elections.