President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have gone out of their way in the last fortnight to shower friendly gestures on Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and even Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer. Refuting the dire predictions by Netanyahu’s critics of a disastrous breach, Obama and Biden, by word and gesture, are putting behind them the rancor long marring relations between Washington in Jerusalem.
The White House launched its new charm campaign for Israel on April 13 by meetings with three groups of American Jewish leaders. Obama addressed the first with an emotional affirmation of his support for Israel and its security. Vice President Biden, National Security adviser Susan Rice and Biden’s national security adviser Colin Kahl then talked to another group of Jewish leaders, while Obama spoke to Jewish “community leaders”, a group of individuals who though unaffiliated are influential and generous donors to the Democratic Party.
Ten days later, on April 23, Biden was the keynote speaker at the Israeli embassy’s Independence Day reception. He stood alongside the former object of administration ire – Ambassador Dermer – and declared: “We have Israel’s back, you can count on that.” He announced that Israel would be the first country in the world to receive the new US F-35 stealth aircraft already next year.
Thursday, the Vice President delivered a lecture at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the key DC research think tank on the subject of US-Israel relations.
In this important lecture, Biden defended in great detail US strategy and objectives in the negotiations for a nuclear accord with Iran, as they enter their final lap.
All in all, the US president and vice president are devoting more time to gestures for repairing relations with Israel than on the burning crises afflicting the world in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.
debkafile found four reasons for this striking White House pivot:
1. After the fireworks sparked by Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to the US Congress against the nuclear accord, which placed him at the forefront of the international front opposing the deal, the White House decided that instead of sparring with him, it would be more productive to convert the Israeli prime minister into a supporter by meeting him halfway on certain points.
2. The rift with Israel proved disadvantageous to the Obama administration, while boosting Netanyahu and his Likud in Israel’s recent general election. The US president has paid a high political and personal price for colliding with Congress on the Iranian nuclear issue. His strategic advisers have recommended a bid to convince Netanyahu that Israel’s most pressing concerns about the nuclear deal are being addressed in the final stage of the talks. Assuming that the prime minister too is not looking for a major rift with Washington, he may be amenable to partly changing course and withdrawing some of his objections to the deal. Congress might then respond more positively to the administration’s nuclear policy.
4. As American gears up for its 2016 elections, the Democratic Party needs to woo the Jewish vote and most importantly its financial support for campaigners.
The Biden lecture to the Washington Institute is therefore worthy of close scrutiny. This masterly and eloquent work is an attempt to lay the political and security groundwork for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s consent to a change of heart from opposition to the nuclear deal to its support.
debkafile has therefore singled out is 17 high points:
- Israel is absolutely right to be worried about the world’s most dangerous weapons falling in the hands of a nation, whose leaders dream openly of a world without Israel.
- So the criticism that Israel is too concerned I find preposterous. They have reason to be concerned. (DF. Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran are fully justified.)
- …that’s why the President, President Obama, decided for the first time — people forget this — to make it an explicit, declared policy of the United States of America – no such policy existed before President Obama uttered it — that all instruments of American power to prevent — not contain, not contain -— to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran would be used to prevent that from happening.
- …our military had the capacity and the capability to execute the mission, if it was required. (DF. This was an explicit US presidential pledge to use military force to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.)
Vice President Biden then laid down 12 conditions as the sine qua non for a deal. “If what’s on the table doesn’t meet the President’s requirements, there will be no deal,” he said.
- A final deal must effectively cut off Iran’s uranium, plutonium and covert pathways to the bomb.
- The final deal must ensure a breakout timeline of at least one year for at least a decade or more.
- A final deal must include phased sanction relief, calibrated against Iran taking meaningful steps to constrain their program. (DF. Iran insists on immediate sanctions relief.)
- A final deal must provide verifiable assurances to ensure Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful.
- If they did try to cheat… they would be far more likely to be caught because… we’ll also put in place the toughest transparency and verification requirements.
- Iran will be required to implement the Additional Protocols, allowing IAEA inspectors to visit not only declared nuclear facilities, but undeclared sites where suspicious, clandestine work is suspected and address IAEA concerns about the military dimensions of past nuclear research.
Not only would Iran be required to allow 24/7 eyes on the nuclear sites you’ve heard of — Fordow and Natantz and Arak — and the ability to challenge suspect locations, every link in their nuclear supply chain will be under surveillance.
- And if Iran resumes its pursuit of nuclear weapons, no option available today will be off the table. In fact, the options will be greatly increased because we will know so much more.
Biden went on to warn: “Let’s not kid each other. They already have paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material. Iran could get there now if they walked away in two to three months without a deal.” He went on to say: “Without this deal, they already have enough material if further enriched for as many as eight nuclear bombs. Already, right now, as I speak to you.
- Under the proposed final deal, the Arak reactor will be redesigned to produce zero weapons-grade plutonium. The spent fuel will be required to be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. And Iran will be barred from building the reprocessing plant for extracting bomb-grade material from plutonium.
“Finally there is the myth that a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran enables Iran to gain dominance inside the Middle East.” The US vice president protested: “But it is a nuclear bargain between Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU, America and Iran – one that reduces the risk of nuclear war and makes the region and the world a safer place,” he stressed.
“We are working continually to develop the means and capacity to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities…“ he said citing the Strait of Hormuz. We are prepared to use (inaudible) the force.”
Biden wound up his peroration by directing these words to Israel. “It’s true we disagree sometimes. But as I said last week at Israel’s Independence Day celebration, we’re family. I think it was Ambassador Dermer who essentially said the same thing. We drive each other nuts. But we love each other. And most of all we protect each other.”
debkafile’s Washington sources note: The Obama administration appears willing to keep on smiling towards Israel. US Secretary of State John Kerry will soon schedule a visit to Israel, after staying away for a long time, The visit will be billed as promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but his real errand will be to test the ground with Prime Minister Netanyahu and assess how successful the White House’s gestures of affection have been in toning down his opposition to the nuclear deal.
For now, the host of critics who accused Netanyahu of causing an irreparable breach with Washington over the nuclear issue have retired to a corner.