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US and Israel sign pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons

Biden disembarks Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport Reuters/Ammar Awad
Biden disembarks Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport
  • Agreement expands on security relationship between US and Israel
  • Biden meets Palestinian leaders in occupied West Bank on Friday
  • Iran denies its nuclear programme is aimed at acquiring weapons

US president Joe Biden and Israel’s prime minister Yair Lapid today signed a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons, closing ranks on Tehran.

A senior Biden administration official said the agreement will expand on the long-standing security relationship between the United States and Israel.

“This declaration is pretty significant, and it includes a commitment to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and to address Iran’s destabilising activities, particularly threats to Israel,” the official said.

Biden, who is on his first Middle East trip since taking office in early 2021, arrived in Israel yesterday and has talks with Israeli leaders today.

The president faces an uphill battle persuading Iran to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement that his predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.

He is likely to face questions from Israel and from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the wisdom of reviving the Iran nuclear deal and what the United States will do to counter Iran’s regional actions, regardless of whether the deal is resurrected.

In an interview upon arrival yesterday, Biden said the deal represented the best chance of holding up Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear bomb.

“The only thing worse than the Iran which exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons and if we can return to the deal, we can hold them tight,” he said. Asked if the United States could use force if needed, he said: “If that was the last resort, yes.”

The US official, asked if the declaration is about buying some time with Israel as Washington pursues negotiations with Iran, said: “If Iran wants to sign the deal that has been negotiated in Vienna, we have made very clear we’re prepared to do that.

“And, at the same time, if they’re not, we will continue to increase our sanctions pressure, we will continue to increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation.”

The official said the joint agreement pledges ongoing US military aid for Israel and emphasises support for the Abraham Accords – the agreements between Israel and a handful of Arab states that the Trump administration helped broker.

Biden will take in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia over four days.

“The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep,” he said as part of a five-minute speech delivered shortly after Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion airport. 

“Generation after generation, that connection grows. We invest in each other, we dream together.” 

In his welcome address, Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid called Biden “a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

Lapid added that Biden’s plane will “carry with it a message of peace and hope from us” to the Saudis. 

Biden will become the first US president to fly directly to Jeddah from Tel Aviv when he departs on Friday, which nods to Riyadh’s softening stance towards Israel – a country it still does not officially recognise after decades of boycott in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Israel's prime minister Yair Lapid greets Biden as the US president begins his four-day tour of the Middle EastReuters/Ammar Awad
Israel’s prime minister Yair Lapid greets Biden as the US president begins his four-day tour of the Middle East

Abraham Accords

Speculation has been mounting in recent weeks that the US and Israeli administrations will make a joint announcement during Biden’s visit regarding the normalising of relations between Israel and Saudi.  

After signing the Abraham Accords with fellow Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain in September 2020, Israel is now keen for Saudi Arabia to follow suit as it looks to strengthen its alliance against Iran. 

Improving national security is high on Israel’s agenda with Lapid revealing that the two leaders would “discuss building a new security and economy architecture with the nations of the Middle East, following the Abraham Accords and the achievements of the Negev Summit.”

Along with its greatest concern that Iran is rapidly advancing its nuclear program, Israel fears the growing drone and missile capabilities of Iran and its proxies around the region.

On Palestine

Biden said he believed that a two-state solution is “the best way to ensure the future meaningful measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians”, but that he recognised it is not feasible in “the near term”.

On Friday Biden will travel to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian leaders have been angered by Washington’s failure to curb Israeli settlement building, as well as the Biden administration’s unfulfilled promise to reopen a US consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem after his predecessor Trump formally recognised the divided city as the capital of Israel in December 2017. 

The Palestinians want the US to do more to restart peace talks with Israel with many regarding Biden’s Israeli foreign policy as a continuation of Trump’s – arguably one of the most pro-Israel US presidents in history. 

Lapid notably commented that Biden’s visit “is historic because it expresses the unbreakable bond between our two countries. Our commitment to shared values: democracy, freedom, and the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own.”

In order to appease Biden’s critics at home who have been vocal in their disapproval of his forthcoming meeting with Saudi’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs), foreign policy analysts have argued that Biden will need to return home with some tangible foreign policy initiative – the merits of which will no doubt be keenly debated across the political aisles.