During a joint press conference Wednesday with his American and Emirati counterparts, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke of “other options” — understood to include military action — should diplomacy fail to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
“Other options are going to be on the table if diplomacy fails,” Lapid said. “By saying other options, I think everyone understands, here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran, what is it that we mean.”
Lapid added in Hebrew that his three-day trip to Washington centered around “the other options” but did not repeat that line in his English comments.
Using the same “other options” phrase, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also hinted at the possibility of military action against Iran if Tehran does not return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known also as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“We will continue to look at every option to deal with the challenge that is posed by Iran. We believe that diplomacy is the best way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy,” Blinken said.
“We’re united in the proposition that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Blinken added, while noting that Iran has already had nine months since Biden’s election to demonstrate its commitment.
“With every passing day, and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short,” Blinken said. “Time is running short. We are getting closer to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA.
“We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course,” he warned.
The US has yet to publicly entertain alternative options to the JCPOA in detail, insisting that it is still pursuing the diplomatic path to blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in August that if that effort fails, the US will be prepared to consider other options.
Lapid said in his prepared remarks at the beginning of the press conference that “Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment, in any way. That is not only our right, it is also our responsibility.”
He added: “Iran has publicly stated it wants to wipe us out. We have no intention of letting that happen.”
On September 21, the day Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blasted US sanctions on Iran in his address to the UN, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Tehran would return to the talks within weeks.
The 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for tight controls on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral accord and began reimposing sanctions.
In the interim, Iran has openly breached some terms of the accord, including enriching to higher than permitted levels, stockpiling more enriched uranium, introducing advanced centrifuges, and moving ahead on other processes with bomb-making applications.
The US negotiator on Iran, Rob Malley, said Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “We feel like coming back would still be the best outcome, but we’re realistic.
“We know that there’s at least a good possibility that Iran is going to choose a different path, and we need to coordinate with Israel and with our other partners in the region,” he said.
After taking part in the talks with Israel and the UAE, Malley said he would head in the coming days to the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Lapid addressed the Palestinian issue as well, quoting John F. Kennedy that “all people are entitled to a decent way of life.”
“This includes of course the Palestinians,” he said. “Our goal is to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that every child has that opportunity.”
On the Palestinian issue, Blinken pledged to “deepen our diplomatic ties.”
“As I said in May,” he continued, “we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians.”
Blinken also emphasized that the Biden administration is “committed to continue building on the efforts of the last administration to expand the circle of countries with normalized relations with Israel in the years ahead.”
He announced two new working groups that the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will participate in: one on religious coexistence and the other on water and energy.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said his country was “extremely impressed with our growing relationship with Israel.”
Bin Zayed announced that he would visit Israel “soon.”
“Foreign Minister Yair was kind enough to invite me to visit Israel and I’m going to visit soon to meet a friend and also a partner,” he said.
Referencing the Palestinians as well, bin Zayed said that the Abraham Accords help Israel and the UAE “to be more candid with each other, but also to encourage the others whenever there is more to be done.”
He referred to Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah during his comments on the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
“We have to keep in mind that we don’t end up with a situation where we have another Hezbollah threatening the borders of Suadi Arabia,” bin Zayed said. “And the Houthis have managed to develop their capabilities over the law few years in a way which is much faster than the trajectory of Hezbollah developing its capabilities.”
“We have to make sure we have enough partners and enough international understanding that we don’t have another southern Lebanon situation in Yemen,” he stressed.
On Tuesday, Lapid met with Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Israel’s top diplomat will meet with AIPAC leaders Thursday before flying back home.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.