Virtually every talking point that emerges from meetings between Israeli and American officials and diplomats evokes the term “shared interests.” But in its single-minded determination to forge a new Iran deal, the United States seems to be ignoring the life-or-death stakes for its ally, Israel.
Apparently, President Biden believes Israel should hold its fire against Iran while the United States tries to negotiate an agreement. However, so far it seems the United States will not attempt to force Iran to a) abandon its nuclear-weapons program; b) cease its threats and attacks against Israel and Arab Gulf states; and c) discontinue its arming and funding of Middle East terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Last week, Israel’s Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen met with Biden in Washington to share reports about Iran’s misdeeds and convince the president to take a tougher stand. He also emphasized that Israel’s defensive actions against its sworn enemy will not be limited by the Islamic Republic’s agreements with other nations, including the United States.
Unfortunately, it appears that nothing the Israelis could say will change the direction Washington is taking towards Iran. When White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether the Israeli delegation was likely to alter the administration’s position, she answered simply, “No.”
Psaki rarely makes unequivocal statements, preferring diplomatic language to avoid definitive declarations—so her firm response on this issue was telling.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the United States and Israel have been such solid allies over the past three decades. The two nations, each built on a bedrock commitment to democracy and freedom, share the same threats and enemies. Those who target Israel generally oppose the United States and vice versa.
Of course, the United States is in a different league in terms of size and capabilities, but the State of Israel punches far above its weight in terms of intelligence, military technology and as a base of stability in a key region.
With one of the most powerful militaries in the world, Israel defends Western interests on the ground in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iran—so the United States and Western European countries don’t have to. Israel backs the United States in the global forums more consistently than any other nation. It has saved many American and European lives and has never asked a single non-Israeli to fight its battles or wars.
Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen this strong, mutually valuable alliance degenerate into a relationship more resembling that between a “controlling” and a “client” state. Nowhere is this shift seen more clearly than with the Iran nuclear issue.
During President Barack Obama’s administration, Israel was denied details on U.S. intentions to broker a deal to delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program. While senior Israeli officials were briefed occasionally on the larger picture, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice did not authorize the Israelis to be briefed on actual negotiations, leaving them in the dark, with little access to express concern about Iran’s treachery.
Obviously, Israel has much to fear from a nation whose leaders constantly call for its annihilation, while simultaneously seeking nuclear weapons. Even back in 2015, when Obama negotiated the ill-starred Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israeli leaders believed the United States was striking a bad deal—relieving pressure and sanctions on a bellicose Iran and leaving no leverage to strike a better deal.
Today, it’s easy to see the failure of the JCPOA: Iran has been working steadily on its nuclear capability since 2015 and is now a threshold nuclear state, barely months away from the ability to make a nuclear weapon. To its credit, the Trump administration utilized the mechanisms of the JCPOA that specified penalties for Iranian breaches: The United States reimposed crippling sanctions and left the agreement.
Now, to Israel’s dismay, President Joe Biden—surrounded by many of the JCPOA’s greatest cheerleaders—has demonstrated unseemly eagerness to return to the agreement, with few demands on the ayatollahs. This avid desire has merely emboldened Iranian leaders to enrich its uranium to 60 percent purity, just a small step from weapons-grade capability.
Even if an agreement pushes Iran back a few steps, this nuclear technology leap has been made. While the centrifuges may be sent into storage, Iranian enrichment skills and knowledge cannot be.
Understandably, the Israelis are livid about this situation and are trying to make the strongest, most robust case possible to the United States about its concerns.
Predictably, however, the JCPOA’s supporters in the media mounted a preemptive strike on the Israelis’ meetings with the president and Israel’s shadow war against the nuclear weapons infrastructure. A Washington Post editorial warned that “Israel’s relentless attacks on Iran may endanger Biden’s diplomacy.”
The Post and other media characterize Biden’s diplomacy with Iran as the utmost virtue, while accusing Israel of trying to scupper good-faith negotiations. To this end, the paper’s editorial offers only a scant five words about Iran’s attacks against American allies and the United States itself. In the Post’s eyes, anybody who rains on Biden’s appeasement efforts is painted as a spoiler, worthy of scolding.
The Post should recall a famous incident that Joe Biden no doubt remembers well. In 1982, young Sen. Biden, in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee session, confronted Israel’s 68-year-old prime minister, Menachem Begin. Biden pounded on the table, attempting to upbraid Begin on Israel’s settlements policy, warning that Begin was endangering support for U.S. aid.
“Don’t threaten us with cutting off aid to give up our principles,” Begin replied. “I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles.”
We can only hope Biden and his colleagues will see the necessity and immense value of Israel’s resisting the Islamic Republic—which also increases U.S. leverage in negotiations. We can also hope the president will use that leverage to make an agreement powerful enough to truly protect U.S. lives, assets and allies from Iran. In the meantime, Biden should not expect Israel to compromise its existential interests—its survival—in the face of an implacable, increasingly powerful enemy.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.