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July 13, 2022 12:43 pm
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‘A Great Zionist’: Lapid Urges Global Coalition to Stop Iran Nuclear Program as US President Lands in Israel

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Israeli President Isaac Herzog looks on as Prime Minister Yair Lapid bumps fists with U.S. President Joe Biden during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 13, 2022. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

As US President Joe Biden kicked off his Middle East trip in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Israeli leaders hailed the regional visit as a “journey of peace” and called for global cooperation to arrest Iran’s nuclear program.

“This is both a historic visit, and a deeply personal one,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid remarked at the greeting ceremony for Biden’s arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.

Lapid recounted that Biden once called himself a Zionist, saying that “you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.”

“You were right, and in your case: a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known,” the Israeli premier added.

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Biden reaffirmed that stance in his own remarks, calling the connection between the Israeli and American peoples “bone deep.”

“With this trip we have reaffirmed the unshakable commitment by the United States to Israel’s security, including partnering with Israel on the most cutting-edge defense systems in the world,” Biden said. “We will continue to advance Israel’s integration to the region and expand emerging forums and engagement — like the new I2U2 Summit, which will bring Israel, the United States, the UAE together, and India as well — to deepen economic cooperation between the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific.”

“Greater peace, greater stability, greater connection. It’s critical for all the people of the region,” he exclaimed.

During the two-day visit to Israel, which is Biden’s tenth, he is expected to hold talks on the Iranian nuclear threat and improving Israeli ties with Saudi Arabia, before meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. On Friday, the US president will head to Jeddah to meet with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other members of the Saudi leadership.

Yoel Guzansky, research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), described Biden’s stop in Israel as in large part symbolic.

“The important leg of the trip is the Arab world, and not Israel. But Israel is part of the region and it’s becoming a bigger part of the region, integrating more and more — and Biden’s visit may contribute exactly to that,” Guzansky told The Algemeiner. “In Israel, the three first things on the agenda will be Iran, Iran, Iran, and he will hear the same thing in the Gulf.”

Lapid’s speech Wednesday previewed themes he will raise with the US president, including building a “new security and economy architecture” in the Middle East, following the Abraham Accords and the Negev Summit.

“We will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear program,” he added.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also said that “security challenges emanating directly from Iran and its proxies, threatening Israel and its neighbors and endangering our region” would be discussed.

“Today, winds of peace are blowing from North Africa across the Mediterranean to the Gulf. This trip, Mr. President, is your journey of peace from Israel to Saudi Arabia, from the Holy Land to the Hejaz,” Herzog said. “I hope and pray it will help advance a regional vision of prosperity, integration, peace and security for our entire region.”

Earlier, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden would reiterate to Israel that reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is the best way to prevent a nuclear Iran.

“There is a deal on the table; it involves a mutual compliance-for-compliance return to the JCPOA,” Sullivan told reporters on the plane from Washington to Tel Aviv. “The President believes Iran should take it.”

“At the same time, we are not holding back in terms of enforcing the sanctions,” he asserted.

On Thursday, Israel and the US are expected to publish the so-called Jerusalem Declaration, laying out elements of a bilateral strategic partnership that also addresses the Iranian nuclear program.

“The joint declaration will have all kinds of promises and commitments,” commented Guzansky. “But it’s a letter. It’s very symbolic, it’s important. But in the end of the day, it’s just a piece of paper.”

A former member of Israel’s National Security Council, Guzansky argued that Biden’s main destination on the trip is Saudi Arabia, where he will push for expanded oil production to lower global energy prices.

“The trade-off is more security,” he added. “That’s what the Saudis want vis-à-vis Iran. They feel that the US neglected their fears and demands for more security from Iran.”

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