Joe Biden’s first trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia as president of the United States occurred at a time of mounting unease. Many of his words came as a salve to a raw, bleeding wound. It is our hope that these words are not merely rhetorical but backed up with real, meaningful substance.
Yet words from an American president go a long way.
The major open wound has a name, and that name is Iran. For those in Israel, whose very lives are on the line, this is not a mere academic question. With a brutal, fanatical regime in Tehran that doesn’t hesitate to arrest and torture its own dissident population—and that routinely vows to wipe Israel off the map—and is progressing rapidly in its means to do so, these are not merely theoretical concerns.
Israel has watched with mounting tension as the Iranian centrifuges have been briskly spinning enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon, as stated by the International Atomic Energy Administration in May.
When Biden arrived on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport on July 13, he described the connection between the United States and Israel as “bone deep.” And later on in an interview he said that the United States would be willing to use military force as a last resort.
This comes as welcome words after the last 18 months, where we have witnessed the United States waste valuable energy, time and resources on endless rounds of talks with a regime that has used these negotiations as a smokescreen, behind which they have been making galloping strides on its nuclear program.
It also comes as a sharp contrast to the words of the U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25 and categorically ruled out the use of military force.
It has become disheartening and dispiriting to watch the P5+1 nations (France, Britain, Germany, China, Russia, and indirectly, the United States) exhaust themselves with eight rounds of negotiations in Vienna and one round in Doha.
And it has become increasingly evident—even to our most died-in-the wool believers in diplomacy such as Malley—that the Iranians have been playing with us. In a July 5 interview with National Public Radio after the talks in Doha broke down, he said: “They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” adding that “the discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself. They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
While hiding behind the chador of negotiations, Iran has also been hard at work building new, underground facilities so deep underground that they can evade bunker-busting bombs and cyberattacks, such as the one in Natanz.
The International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) passed a resolution on June 9 condemning Iran for its “lack of cooperation and transparency.” Iran’s response has been to turn off the cameras in 27 of its nuclear facilities.
At this point, even for an administration that had made a campaign pledge to return to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, patience is finally running thin regarding Iran’s antics.
As I write this, Biden signed a pledge denying Iran nuclear weapons. The United States has the world’s largest and most capable military at its disposal. We have long maintained that diplomacy, without the credible threat of military force against a brutal dictatorship such as Iran, is meaningless.
I believe the president is sincere about this commitment. He represents the old, solid guard of the Democratic Party, someone who appreciates the struggles that Israel has had to endure to exist over the last 74 years, and one that values and understands Jewish history and what our people have gone through over the last two centuries.
This message should resonate loudly, not only in Tel Aviv, but in Abu Dhabi, Manama, Riyadh, and in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing. It is the beginning of the long process of repairing the damage of our feckless retreat from Afghanistan, of our lack of response to the Houthi bombings of the Saudi oil fields, the airport in Abu Dhabi, and our military bases in Iraq and Syria.
This is Biden’s moment of truth. Even if the use of force never has to be employed, those words alone resonate loudly.
And they will go a long way in hopefully, beginning to restore the liberal world order, with America at its helm.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.