After two years of fruitless negotiations with Iran, the Biden Administration appears to be finally waking up to reality: only by coordinating closely with Israel will America be able to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program and stifle the regime’s capacity to support terrorists and dictators like Hezbollah and Vladimir Putin.
The Biden Administration’s misguided efforts to renegotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal – with the hope that the offer of sanctions relief would entice the regime to change its behavior – have been to no avail. Mounting evidence suggests that Iran has continued its pursuit of nuclear weapons and has supplied Russia with thousands of drones to aid the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine.
The White House’s dashed hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran have ostensibly prompted a much-needed reorientation of their approach to Tehran. At the end of January, the U.S. and Israel held their largest ever joint military drills, clearly designed to send a message to Iran, and hopefully a harbinger of what’s to come for U.S.-Israel cooperation in the region.
Shortly after the drills, and during visits to Israel by C.I.A. Director William Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel conducted four drone and missile strikes against Iran and Iranian proxies in Syria.
Notably, Israel’s first strike targeted a military complex in Isfahan, Iran, which produces missiles and drones, the same drones Iran is supplying to Russia. Some have interpreted this as a favor to the U.S., which has asked Israel to provide more support for Ukraine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to confirm this supposition, telling French President Emmanuel Macron that Israeli actions against Iran “also harm Iran’s capabilities” to assist Russia.
It is ultimately self-evident that Israel – as the only true democracy in the Middle East, whose military has carried out hundreds of strikes on Iranian targets over the past decade – is a major strategic asset to the U.S., and is vital to America’s efforts to counter and contain the Iranian regime.
This is especially clear when considering the challenges facing President Biden, who is contending with a number of other foreign policy challenges vis-à-vis Russia and China, while also leading a skeptical public that is fatigued with Middle East wars.
Daniel Shapiro, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President Obama, made a similar argument recently, noting that the situation with Iran “calls for a revised U.S. strategy, coordinated to the maximum degree possible with Israel and other regional partners.”
The regional partners that Mr. Shapiro refers to – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other moderate Arab nations – have a key role to play as well, and their diplomatic capacity should be called upon to buttress Israel’s diplomatic and military capabilities.
Holding large-scale joint military drills like the one that just concluded is a good start. But beyond that, the administration and the Pentagon must also ensure that Israel is allowed to purchase any systems that would be needed to wage an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Further, as Shapiro alluded to, the Biden Administration must also communicate to Tehran that Washington will not oppose, and could actually support, further Israeli military action against Iran or its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.
Moreover, as recent reports suggest that Iran is building plants within Russia to enable the Kremlin to produce thousands of drones domestically, time is of the essence in confronting the Iranian regime.
To be clear, I am not advocating for an imminent strike on Iran. But without a credible threat, Tehran will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons, endangering the entire globe.
While these strategic considerations take precedent for the president, whose job it is to protect the American people, Biden could face political blowback from within his own party as he shifts the U.S.’s approach to Israel vis-à-vis Iran.
Throughout his decades in Washington, Biden has earned a reputation as a pro-Israel Democrat. As Vice President, he was often the preferred interlocutor for Israeli officials, due to former President Obama’s prioritization of achieving détente with Iran.
While support for Israel was once a bipartisan cause, the growing power of the political left has coincided with a reduction in support for the Jewish State within the Democratic Party. Prominent progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders have repeatedly called for cutting critical military aid, while others like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have erroneously labeled Israel an “apartheid state.”
Indeed, Biden’s pro-Israel views now put him in the minority among Democrats. The majority of (53%) of Democratic voters – including 62% of self-described “liberals” – have an unfavorable opinion of Israel, per Pew Research.
Israel’s newly elected government, which has, with some accuracy, described as the most right-wing government in the country’s history, only further complicates the political landscape for Biden.
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The Biden Administration has made it clear that they are uncomfortable with some Ministers in Netanyahu’s new cabinet, specifically Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, due to their right-wing views on Palestinians, LGBTQ+ issues, and their positions on unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank.
Regardless of the animosity the administration may feel toward these far-right Israeli Ministers and the potential political blowback Biden could face from the left, there is a clear need for the U.S. to coordinate closely with Israel by providing diplomatic and military credibility to Jerusalem’s actions against Tehran. This is especially critical in light of the additional severe foreign policy challenges – i.e., Russia and China – that America is facing.
Positively, Blinken’s visit to Israel signals that this administration understands the intrinsic value of Realpolitik, and is serious about preventing the Ayatollahs from acquiring nuclear weapons, which would put the U.S. and the free world at grave risk.
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant. Saul Mangel is senior strategist at Schoen Cooperman Research.