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Op-ed

Why Biden’s 10th visit to Israel must be his most productive

The US president certainly has important business to do in Saudi Arabia. But there’s nothing more critical than stopping a nuclear Iran. And time is running out

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

President Joe Biden speaks after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, as Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, second left, and President Isaac Herzog, left, look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, as Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, second left, and President Isaac Herzog, left, look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

An earlier version of this Editor’s Note was sent out in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

US President Joe Biden has been to Israel nine times before. As he recalled on his arrival here Wednesday afternoon, he has met with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir. He’s a Zionist. He “gets” Israel — recognizes its challenges, appreciates its achievements. By extension, in the summations of several Israeli commentators and analysts in the run-up to the president’s visit, the Israel leg of Biden’s Middle East trip is almost pro forma — a nicely intentioned “stopover,” to quote one such commentator, Dr. Yoel Guzansky, speaking on Army Radio on Tuesday evening.

“By the way, it’s not a visit to Israel,” said Guzansky, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies and a former member of Israel’s National Security Council. Here, Biden will “meet old acquaintances… and stress the unbreakable bond.” But the real purpose of the Middle East trip “is to get to Saudi Arabia.”

There, in these assessments, the US president will be grappling with issues truly at the heart of the American interest, and especially the imperative to persuade the Saudis to boost oil production — undermining the Russian and Iranian economies and, most importantly for a president with his party’s November elections to worry about, bringing down gas prices for Americans.

I hope and believe the president and his team see things a little differently. I hope and believe they regard the Israeli and Saudi legs of this trip as intimately related and as critical — to the interests of the United States, its allies in the region, and especially its sole democratic partner in these parts. Because time is running out to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. And the Biden administration, having tried and thus far failed to drag Iran back into the deeply problematic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, urgently needs to finalize a Plan B.

Without breaching the flawed provisions of that 2015 accord, Iran has accelerated its missile development and improved its uranium enrichment centrifuges. Moreover, since US president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from it, Iran has openly violated its terms — installing and operating more advanced centrifuges, enriching uranium to higher levels and stockpiling increasing quantities. Most recently Iran removed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s surveillance cameras from key nuclear sites, including the Natanz enrichment facility.

This latest derisive Iranian step prompted the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, to warn that in three to four weeks, without those cameras, his watchdog organization would be unable to maintain a “continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s program and it would then be “anybody’s guess” as to what was going on. Grossi issued that three-to-four-week warning on June 9, about five weeks ago. As regards Iran’s weaponization progress, its ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile and “successfully” deliver and detonate it — well, that’s already largely “anybody’s guess.”

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the current situation in Iran as he stands next to an example of a monitoring camera, at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 9, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Given the Iranian regime’s relentless efforts to harm and weaken Israel in the cause of its declared desire for our elimination, it is dearly to be expected that Biden will be doing more here than renewing friendships and signing declarations, and that he and his Israeli interlocutors will be intensifying their years of joint efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Saudis share much of Israel’s concern about the ayatollahs’ rapacious aspirations; hence the growing readiness to covertly and overtly cooperate with Israel. A vast array of American interests are deeply threatened by an emboldened and near-nuclear-capable Iran — and the US is potentially directly threatened, too, as Tehran constantly expands its missile range.

In his brief arrival remarks at the sun-drenched Ben Gurion Airport, Biden did not mention Iran by name. He did speak of the unshakable US commitment to Israel’s security, including partnering with Israel on the most sophisticated defense systems. And he did cite the imperative to “never, ever, ever” forget the lessons of the Holocaust and never to allow a recurrence.

Indeed. Israel has not gathered millions of the Holocaust-reduced global Jewish populace in our small, remarkable country only to fall vulnerable again to a would-be genocidal regime.

A “stopover” to reconnect with old friends, before getting down to the really important work in Saudi? I don’t believe that’s how the Biden administration regards the Israeli leg of the president’s trip.

Rather, I profoundly hope the rare opportunity for top-level face-to-face interaction will represent the culmination of years of serious work on that Plan B — stopping Iran’s march to the bomb if and when all efforts to deter it are deemed to have failed; stopping Iran when, as the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan put it, the sword is at our throat.

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