Despite the unusual statement made by Biden standing next to Bennett, one needs to wait for the implementation of the hidden promise should Iran become a threshold nuclear state. The Palestinians, mentioned as a side remark, and the meeting, taking place at the height of the crisis in Afghanistan, sent a message to the public electorate of both leaders.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett received what they wanted in their first meeting. The meeting between the leaders was not only meant to reach practical and pragmatic conclusions, but was intended to issue to the global community and the people at home the level of warmth and chemistry between the leaders. This was accompanied by statements by both leaders. There were no practical conclusions, but there were statements on intentions, hopes and primarily a desire for fruitful cooperation without confrontation — at least not publicly.
Bennett received a revised commitment regarding Iran; this was not only a formulation that Iran “would never acquire nuclear weapons.” In the past, Biden said that during his watch Iran would not possess nuclear weapons, and now he revised it, adding a sentence that he had never said: “If diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”
In other words, the president of the United States pledged not only to use the diplomatic channel, but said explicitly while next to the Israeli prime minister that if the diplomatic channel fails — i.e., Iran does not return to the 2015 agreement — the U.S. will act implicitly in cooperation with Israel to use other options. It is important to point out that in contrast to previous Democratic President Barack Obama, Biden did not say that all options, including the military option, were on the table — but he spoke about other options, which are not necessarily a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and missile bases.
When the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel are speaking about other options, they are speaking about new economic sanctions, and sanctions on Iranian individuals and institutions. They are also speaking about clandestine warfare, such as the type ascribed to Mossad recently, something expressed by sabotage and targeted killing of key figures in the Iranian nuclear program — primarily in the arenas of cyberwarfare, intelligence and public relations. This issue is important because Biden did not reject one of these operational paths, including a kinetic attack by means of missiles and aerial bombing, but said “other options.” However, before Bennett rubs his hands with too much satisfaction, he should wait almost a year so we can understand the practical significance of last night’s statement.
As was mentioned, the nuclear agreement with Iran is still on the negotiating table of the United States, Europeans and Iranians, and one must wait to see if an agreement is reached and, if so, what kind of agreement. If the diplomatic contacts fail, we will have to wait to see what extent the U.S. is ready to be involved in those “other options” together with Israel. Bennett definitely left the meeting with the statement on American intentions that he wanted regarding Iran; this is important, but should not justify euphoria.
Bennett can also be satisfied with the fact that Biden barely mentioned the Palestinians, and when he did speak about them, it was no more than general cliches that mean nothing. Apparently, one can conclude in this regard that Biden in fact accepts Bennett’s thesis that there are no people with whom to negotiate at the present time and all that can be done is to improve the conditions of the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, along with allowing the natural growth of the settlements. Regarding Gaza, the fact it was not mentioned means the U.S. is allowing Israel to decide, on the condition that it does not disproportionately apply deterrence pressure on Hamas.
The other thing that Bennett achieved, and more precisely the main thing, is that the Biden administration sees in Bennett’s government an opportunity to open a new chapter with Israel that will not embarrass the United States, but will allow it to again win the support of American Jews who voted for the Republican Party. Biden went out of his way to show how seriously he regards Bennett as prime minister despite that he is a novice in the field, while Biden is one of the most experienced leaders in the world.
Biden is well aware, as a veteran and polished politician, how much warmth and goodwill to show in meeting Bennett while he is focused on Afghanistan, something that strengthens Bennett’s status not only among his electors, but also among those who did not vote for him. While over the past 24 hours social media was exploding with disparagement for Bennett because the U.S. president made him wait 24 hours for the meeting, the White House’s reception of Bennett can be seen as a slap in the face directed by Biden and his administration against anyone who tried to diminish the value of the initial meeting between Biden and the Israeli prime minister.
It should not be forgotten that Biden also gained political and public relations capital from the meeting. First of all, Biden proved that he can conduct a major and demanding crisis in which he must explain to the citizens of his country no less than the failures of his administration’s intelligence, security and foreign policy personnel.
Despite his age, Biden proved two things: division of attention and leadership, and that the state of Israel in fact is important to him. He knows well, and apparently his advisers told him this, that in Tehran they understand the message that the president of the United States met for important talks with the prime minister of Israel while he was dealing with a crisis threatening the status of the United States in the world — and even more threatening to his administration.
However, Biden, in my estimation, also gained practical benefit because in the current situation Israel is the only country that knows how to gather reliable intelligence on various radical Islamists. Israel shares this intelligence with the United States; Donald Trump even leaked information on this to the Russians. Today, when the United States is leaving Afghanistan in what appears to be a hasty escape, Israel’s intelligence capabilities are receiving greater value and attention in Washington.
What is not clear is to what extent the United States will grant Israel what it is seeking in terms of security assistance. This assistance is necessary for Israel in order to develop creative and reliable attack capabilities against Iran. What Israel needs and is now requesting from the United States is special assistance and technologies valued in the billions; however, Biden agreed publicly to give Israel only necessary defense assistance — i.e., to produce more Iron Dome missile interceptors and other anti-missile systems.
This apparently is the reason Bennett repeated that “we need this assistance.” He did not appear to have received that assurance, and now it remains to be seen if, during the wider meeting among American professionals, they will be ready to go in Israel’s direction. One thing that Israel wants is American financing of Israeli security industries so they can complete the development and production of indigenous weapons systems such as the anti-missile laser system and tie-breaker technologies to contend with Iran.
Biden also did not commit to aid Israel in its battle against Iranian regional subversion, but this is less important. Cooperation in every sphere against Iran and exceptional security assistance is what Israel needs and it is still unclear if the United States; i.e., Biden and his administration, are ready to provide this to us.
This is a good start for Biden, but no more than a start. The translation of Biden’s spoken good intentions into action is what will be the determining factor.