FM: Biden trip will have lasting impact on Israel-Saudi ties

Lapid: All UN Security Council nuclear sanctions on Iran must be restored

Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference, foreign minister calls for issue to be reverted to UN; says he is not sure government will still be in power when Biden visits

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, June 15, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, June 15, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called on Wednesday morning for the United Nations Security Council’s “snapback” sanctions on Iran to be implemented over its resurgent nuclear program.

“We’ve arrived at the point at which the Iranian nuclear issue needs to return to the UN Security Council and all sanctions need to be reactivated,” said Lapid,  speaking mostly in Hebrew to Israeli and international journalists at a press conference highlighting Israeli diplomatic achievements since his government with Naftali Bennett took office last June.

According to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers, UN Security Council sanctions could be reimposed on Iran — without Russia or China being allowed to veto — if one of the parties to the agreement lodges a complaint.

With a renewed nuclear deal in Vienna looking less likely by the day, Israel is hoping that the Iran nuclear issue will be transferred from the International Atomic Energy Agency back to the Security Council. Last week, a senior Israeli official said that the diplomatic pressure mounting on Iran from a frustrated West could result in the issue being referred to the UN body, an outcome Israel would welcome.

“This is the next step in the diplomatic struggle against the Iranian nuclear program,” Lapid said. “The previous steps failed, and the IAEA decision says that they failed.”

Lapid said that Israel presented its position on referring the nuclear issue back to the Security Council to the relevant countries, and that the UK was an “intensive partner” in the presentations.

Photographers and tv cameramen watch a demonstration of a monitoring camera used in Iran during a press conference of Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the current situation in Iran at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 09, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution last Wednesday censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the previous discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three sites that Tehran had not declared as having hosted nuclear activities.

Lapid argued Wednesday that his government’s improved ties with Europe and the Biden administration had helped Israel influence Western positions on Iran.

“The American decision not to remove the definition of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organization is a victory of Israeli diplomacy,” said Lapid.

Major gaps remain in the Israeli and American positions on Iran’s nuclear program, Lapid acknowledged: “We have a fundamental disagreement. They still think the JCPOA is the right thing and we don’t.”

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (Stringer/AFP)

The divergent stances have not gotten in the way of deep and ongoing collaboration and discussion between the two countries on the issue, he stressed.

Lapid added that the censure of Iran by the IAEA Board of Governors was also, at least partially, the result of work by Israeli diplomats in the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Lapid laid out Israel’s approach to countering Iran’s nuclear program, saying it focused on “causing Iran to feel surrounded.”

“We want to isolate Iran in the international arena,” Lapid said. “We have tools, both multilateral and with the Americans.”

A centerpiece of this approach was the government’s ties with Washington, Lapid explained. “There are differences in worldview between Israel and the US administration,” he acknowledged. “At the same time, a dialogue is being held at the highest levels, and there is attention to our positions. We are talking and will continue to talk, and  there are disagreements between friends even when the goal is the same.”

Greeting Biden

Turning to US President Biden’s planned July 13 visit, Lapid said “I don’t know if I’m confident” that Israel’s current government will still be in place to greet the president, as it faces a growing parliamentary crisis.

But he said he’d “do everything I can to make sure it will, and I estimate it will be we who greet him on the red carpet.”

US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One upon arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on June 2, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Lapid added, “The president is a true friend of Israel and has been his whole life. This visit will be an opportunity to showcase the unbreakable ties between our two countries, the strength and depth of our bilateral relationship.

“But it will also have an impact on regional security and economic ties in the Middle East. I am sure that the president’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia will have a lasting, positive impact.”

Biden’s trip, announced Tuesday, will begin in Israel, where the president will meet with Israeli leaders, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Biden will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The official added that Biden is also slated to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and East Jerusalem.

He will also visit the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.

US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Collage/AP)

A senior Biden administration official briefing reporters on Monday said the president would likely tour a US-funded missile defense system in Israel in order to highlight White House efforts to secure an additional $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome battery replenishments after the May 2021 Gaza war. Biden will also “discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats.”

The administration official said the Israel visit will also focus on the Jewish state’s “increasing integration into the region through the Abraham Accords — normalization agreements Jerusalem signed with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco — through the strengthening of Israel’s ties with Israel and Egypt and through the creation of a new forum established by the Biden administration that includes the US, the UAE, Israel and India — the I2U2.”

After meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, likely in Bethlehem, Biden will then fly directly from Israel to Jedda — a rarely used route that requires Saudi approval and possibly a tiny step toward normalization with the Jewish state. While in Jedda, he will participate in the annual GCC+3 summit with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar in addition to Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

‘The right side of history’

In his Wednesday press conference, Lapid reviewed the Foreign Ministry’s achievements over the past year.  He pointed at three main accomplishments – rehabilitating ties with the US and Europe; strengthening relations with Middle Eastern countries, including those who normalized ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords; and improving the ministry’s standing in the Israeli policymaking process.

Lapid revealed that Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita would be visiting Israel this summer in order to open Morocco’s embassy in Israel. His UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed is also slated to visit, said Lapid.

A Donetsk People’s Republic militia’s multiple rocket launcher fires from its position not far from Panteleimonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, May 28, 2022. (Alexei Alexandrov/AP)

Addressing the unexpected challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lapid stressed that “We stood on the right side of history.”

Israel has sought to maintain open communication with both Russia and Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade on February 24. Bennett held a handful of calls during the war’s first weeks with both Putin and Zelensky as he sought to exploit Israel’s working ties with both countries to help mediate a ceasefire to end the war.

At the same time, Israel has rejected requests from Kyiv and the West for military equipment such as anti-missile batteries, part of a policy meant to preserve ties with Russia. Instead it has sent some 100 tons of humanitarian aid and set up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks.

That approach has succeeded, Lapid argued.

“The war in Ukraine improved in many ways our vital importance to the Europeans, diplomatically, and they also appreciated things we did like the field hospital, and they also appreciated that we can help Europe find an alternative to Russian gas,” he said.

As Lapid spoke on Wednesday, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar signed a gas export deal with Egypt and the EU in Cairo.

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