Vice President Joe Biden’s condemnation of the decision by Israel to approve a construction project in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem became the focus of his visit to the Holy Land, at least as far as the international media are concerned. But for average Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, Biden’s visit caused problems of a much more practical nature — major traffic jams.
On Thursday morning, during rush hour, police closed sections of the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv so the vice president could travel safely to Tel Aviv University, where he delivered a speech. Sections of the Ayalon highway, which crosses the Tel Aviv metropolis, and the Rabin highway, Israel’s only toll road, were also closed. As a result, hundreds of thousands were stuck in major traffic jams.
The daily Ha’aretz reported that Israeli police had warned of major traffic delays and requested that Biden be flown by helicopter, but the request was denied because of security concerns. According to Ha’aretz, the American security services only allow the president and vice president to travel in American vehicles and helicopters. While on previous presidential visits helicopters and cars were brought from the U.S., this time the American delegation traveled light and brought only a limousine, which meant Biden could only travel on roads.
That explanation could have been accepted — security considerations, after all, are not foreign to Israelis, who go through a search when they enter shopping centers and coffee shops — if not for a photo published Friday by Isreal Hayom, another national daily. The photo shows the vice president with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a helicopter. From the text under the photo Israelis learned that Biden and Barak went on a helicopter tour of Israel immediately following Biden’s speech.
Why was it safe enough for Biden to take a tour of Israel with Barak in an Israeli helicopter, but not safe enough for him to fly to Tel Aviv and save Israelis a major hassle? Ha’aretz turned to the American embassy in Tel Aviv, which declined to comment on security arrangements.
During his speech, Biden told Israelis that “sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” After his visit, Israelis, in a friendly manner, ask that the vice president look into his travel arrangements. If that is too much, they will settle for him bringing a helicopter next time he comes for a visit.