By Erin Viner
After updating Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the “ongoing diplomatic efforts” to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear talks “as we’ve done consistently with our Israeli partners, and as we’ll continue to do,” Secretary Blinken stressed that, “The alliance between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever, and though we may have our differences, as friends do, it remains unbreakable.”
Reiterating that support to Israeli security by the administration of US President Joe Biden is “ironclad,” Blinken went on to say that the two countries “share and we are united in addressing the challenges posed by Iran including its nuclear program.”
Jerusalem has long opposed ongoing efforts by Washington to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), arguing the agreement is too weak to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, impede its ballistic missile program or terrorist activities in the Mideast.
Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, citing evidence of covert Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile development, in addition to malign regional behavior and support of proxy warfare. The Ayatollah regime responded by openly violating critical nuclear limits, including to uranium enrichment to 60%. The Biden administration has been engaged in indirect talks with Tehran since April 2020 to bring both sides back into compliance with the deal.
World powers were close to reaching an agreement at the Vienna Talks to restart the JCPOA several weeks ago until Russia made last-minute demands of the US by insisting sanctions imposed on Moscow over its Ukraine invasion should not affect its trade with Tehran.
Secretary Blinken emphasized that “there is no daylight” between the US and Israel “on the fundamental proposition that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” adding, “And whether there is a return to the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement, or not, that principle will not change nor will our commitment to it.”
Prime Minister Bennett stated that “in a turbulent world, Israel is a force for peace, prosperity, stability and for doing good. That’s what we’re about. To be strong here and do good. And unfortunately, there are other forces in the region that are still violent and destructive.”
He also expressed Israel’s concern over the possible US capitulation to Iran’s demand delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) as a condition to revive the JCPOA.
“Their proxy, the Houthis, just this weekend carried out a horrific attack on Saudi Arabia. I hope the United States will hear the concerned voices from the region, Israel’s and others, on this very important issue,” underscored Bennett.
Agreeing that, “deal or no deal, we will continue to work together and with other partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” Blinken responded that “indeed we’ve seen most recently in the Houthi attacks against civilian infrastructure in the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia,” these were “acts of terrorism enabled by Iran.”
Other topics discussed by Bennett and Blinken included the Israel-Palestinian conflict, concern of a Palestinian terror wave against Israelis over the upcoming Ramadan Islamic holy month, Israeli humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip, the Russia-Ukraine War, advancement in the Abraham Accords and Israel’s efforts to mend diplomatic tensions with Turkey.
Speaking in Jerusalem alongside Yair Lapid, who serves as Israel’s Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier, Blinken said that restoring the JCPOA is the best way to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.
“When it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon,” he repeated.
Following a later meeting in Jerusalem, Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanked Secretary Blinken for the US funding of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. “Your visit during these challenging times shows the great bond between our two countries, which is not just declarative but also in actual deeds.” This is yet another opportunity for me to say thank you for the replenishment process that was completed in the United States – I think it’s very important.”
Secretary Blinken replied, “As you said, part of the reason I am here is to reconfirm, if that were necessary, our absolute commitment to this partnership, to this alliance and especially to Israel’s security. You noted the replenishment of Iron Dome and President Biden said he would make sure that that happened, and as you know he signed into law a billion dollars for Iron Dome just a couple of weeks ago. But beyond that, our cooperation and coordination across so many of the major challenges that we face is as good as it’s ever been.”
Secretary Blinken also said he ‘applauds’ Israel’s efforts “to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Palestinians, to give them greater opportunity, greater hope. We continue to believe ultimately that it needs to result in a Two-State solution but in the meantime the work that you’re doing with the Palestinian Authority creates practical improvements in their lives including the announcement today of 20k work permits is vital and we hope it continues.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog welcomed the visiting US diplomat as “a good friend, a long-time friend, and a great friend of the State of Israel,” saying that his visit “means a lot to us, and we welcome you whole-heartedly here in Jerusalem.”
According to a statement from State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, the two “affirmed the strong US-Israeli partnership,” and “also discussed Iran, the Russian government’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, and deepening and expanding the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements;” as well as the US encouragement of “steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, and decrease tensions” and “efforts to advance towards the goal of a Two-State solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In related developments signaling another step the allies are closing ranks against the Islamic Republic, Jerusalem’s Ambassador to Manama Eitan Naeh announced earlier today that Israel will appoint a military attaché to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain soon.