JERUSALEM– The differences on the Iranian nuclear issue between the United States and Israel remained despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s current visit, analysts said.
Biden and Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday signed the Jerusalem Declaration, a joint document on building a strategic partnership, under which the two close allies affirm their commitment to preventing the nuclear armament of Iran.
But Israeli analysts said that such a declaration usually lacks substance and does not reflect any important development in the bilateral relations.
Moreover, they predicted that Biden’s whirlwind four-day tour to the Middle East, which will end with a stay in Saudi Arabia this weekend, would not live up to the expectation of him to expedite the normalization of the ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
NUKE TALKS AT FOCUS
“The real issue is what the U.S. is going to do about Iran, which is what Israel is very much concerned about, and we know that there are differences of opinion between Israel and the U.S. on this issue,” said Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, an Israeli think tank.
Israel considers Iran as its arch foe and has continuously voiced concern over its nuclear aspirations, though Iran insists its nuclear program is not for military purposes.
The U.S., together with other world powers, has been engaged in negotiations with Iran on reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear pact since last year.
The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, but the Biden administration hopes to restore the deal through indirect talks with Iran.
However, during the Thursday meeting between Lapid and Biden, the two sides made a great effort to show there was little disagreement between the two close allies.
“Today, you and I also discussed America’s commitment to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon,” Biden said at a joint press conference.
“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome.”
But Lapid insisted that “Words will not stop them (Iranians). Diplomacy will not stop them.”
“The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force.
“The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table,” he said.
Emmanuel Navon, an expert on international relations at Tel Aviv University, said that as the stalemate in the Iranian nuclear deal talks continues, the Americans want to send a message to their allies that they are not the ones who closed the door on the possibility of reviving the pact, but rather the Iranians.
REVIVING U.S. INFLUENCE
An additional issue on the agenda was the normalization of the ties between Israel and Arab countries. The process began in 2020 with the signing of the Abraham Accords, under which Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Later Morocco and Sudan followed suit to normalize their ties with Israel. Biden is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday.
Analysts expected symbolic gestures toward the normalization of the ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which reportedly will allow for commercial Israeli flights to fly over its airspace.
“The expectations I think are dramatic … Having said that, we can clearly see warming up in the relations between the two countries.
“We see Israeli businessmen going there, we know that there are also Israeli officials visiting Riyadh,” said Inbar.
The importance of Israel’s normalization with the Gulf States is also part of both American and Israeli efforts to shore up their abilities and options to counter Iran, in case the nuclear deal talks fail.
“There is a new regional architecture that the Americans are trying to construct toward Iran,” said Navon, “It is part of the American alternative plan to an agreement with Iran.”
“There is extensive security cooperation between Israel with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. There is already intelligence cooperation with Saudi Arabia and this is an attempt to make it more official,” Navon noted.
Biden wants these relations to be upgraded gradually in order to send a message to Iran that the U.S. is a superpower that has other options other than diplomacy, he added.
PALESTINIAN QUESTION MARGINALIZED
During Bident’s visit in Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian was not high on the agenda during the meetings.
At the joint press conference with Lapid, Biden voiced his continued support for the two-state solution to the decades-long conflict, although he acknowledged the solution is currently unattainable.
“They (the U.S.) do understand that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not possible at this time … but there is a need for ameliorating the conditions of living of the Palestinians and of course Israel doesn’t object to that,” said Inbar.
Ahead of the visit, Israel approved a series of economic measures aimed at improving the situation in the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The number of work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel is expected to increase and zoning plans in the West Bank are to be approved.
Biden recognizes the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has no illusions about a quick solution, said Navon.
“The problems do not disappear just because there isn’t an agreement on the solution.”
On Friday, the U.S. president was slated to meet Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas. He will also visit a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem. – Xinhua