U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday offered their takes on the strategic timetable for the Iranian nuclear threat, with Biden saying there remains “time and space” for diplomacy to work and Netanyahu dismissing diplomacy because Iran is “running out the clock.”
Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) via a live satellite message that “diplomacy has not worked” for Iran, Netanyahu said, providing a contrast to the earlier remarks of Biden.
“Iran has ignored all these offers,” Netanyahu said of what the Islamic Republic has been offered during its nuclear talks with the West. “It is running out the clock.”
“Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program either,” the prime minister added, explaining that amid a struggling economy, Iranian leaders “just grit their teeth and move forward.”
Biden—appearing in the absence of President Barack Obama, who, like Netanyahu, did not address the AIPAC conference in person this year because the two heads of state plan to meet in Israel later this month—told the AIPAC crowd that the U.S. and Israel “have a shared strategic commitment” on Iran.
“Let me make clear what that commitment is,” Biden said. “It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Period.”
“Not contain. Prevent,” Biden added for emphasis. He said Obama, who was not at the AIPAC conference due to his visit to Israel later this month, “has flatly stated that.”
Nevertheless, Biden said, “Our strong preference, the world’s preference, is for a diplomatic solution.” The Obama administration has so far refused to set the “red line” requested by Netanyahu that would prompt U.S. military action against Iran if the Islamic Republic’s nuclear progress crosses that line.
The window for diplomacy with Iran is closing, but the U.S. believes “there is still time and space to achieve [that] outcome,” Biden said.
“If God forbid the need to act [militarily against Iran] occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know, we did everything in our power, we did everything that could have reasonably be expected, to avoid a confrontation,” he said.
Biden said he and Obama “both know that Israel faces new pressures, new threats, and uncertainty.” Those threats “have changed, as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.” The “Arab Spring,” he said, forces the U.S. to “reassess” old relationships in the Middle East.
Amid those regional changes, Biden said one thing has not changed—“our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.”
The U.S. and Israel have “always disagreed on tactics,” but never on the “strategic imperative” to secure Israel.
“No president has done as much to physically secure the state of Israel as president Barack Obama,” Biden said, noting that he has served as a national legislator during the tenures of eight presidents. There have never been as many meetings and as much coordination between U.S. and Israeli intelligence services and their militaries as there has been under Obama, according to Biden.
In particular, Biden noted the $275 million U.S. investment in Iron Dome missile defense system, which intercepted nearly 400 Gaza rockets last November alone.
“The world saw firsthand [during Operation Pillar of Defense] why it was and remains so critical,” Biden said of Iron Dome. “For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the [Israeli] cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter. But late last year Iron Dome made a difference.”
Regarding efforts to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state, Biden said Obama “has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way,” including America’s opposition to the Palestinians’ bid for (and attainment of) nonmember observer state status last fall at the United Nations.
The U.S. continues to oppose unilateral actions in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because, “There is no shortcut to peace, there is no shortcut to face to face negotiations,” Biden said.
“We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve,” Biden said of peace.
“It’s going to require hard steps from both sides, but it’s in all of our interest,” he said, referencing President Bill Clinton’s past statement that, “We’ve got to get caught trying.”
“We make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, for pursuing a better future,” Biden said.
Regarding Iran, Biden acknowledged that even preventing that country from acquiring nuclear weapons still leaves it as a “dangerous neighbor,” particularly for Israel, through their sponsorship of terrorist proxies like Hezbollah.
“We know what Israel knows,” Biden said. “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Period.” The U.S. is urging every nation to “start treating Hezbollah as such and naming them as a terrorist organization,” he said.
With Obama preparing to visit Israel later this month, Biden said the president “is particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear from the people of Israel.”
“I think all politics is personal, and I mean it,” he said.
Netanyahu on Monday also looked forward to Obama’s visit, with the prime minister previewing his three-pronged agenda for when he meets the president: Iran, Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“[The visit] will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what [Obama] has done for Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said he intends to show Obama “a different side” of Israel when he visits, one that has “become a technological marvel” and is “teeming with innovation.”