by Hugh Fitzgerald
Nearly a month into the new administration, the longest delay in forty years, the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel have finally spoken to each other. “Biden and Netanyahu talk Iran, U.S.-Israel alliance,” by Ben Leonard, Politico, February 17, 2021:
President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday for the first time since taking office, speaking about Iran and strengthening the U.S.-Israeli relationship, according to both the Israeli and White House readouts of the call.
The Israeli readout made no specific mention of a Palestinian state or a potential two-state solution. Netanyahu has long downplayed the chance of a Palestinian state coming to fruition. The White House readout, however, said Biden “underscored the importance of working to advance peace throughout the region, including between Israelis and Palestinians.” But the president did not specifically mention a two-state solution.
They apparently didn’t discuss Biden’s long delay in contacting Netanyahu, but shortly before the call, the US ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, Dan Shapiro, explained why he was not at all concerned by the fact that the leaders of the US and Israel had not spoken almost a month into Joe Biden’s term. The story of how he attempted to justify Biden’s “failure to communicate” is here: “Former US envoy to Israel says timing of Biden phone call ‘utterly irrelevant,’” by Lazar Berman, Times of Israel, February 12, 2021:
“How he has spent his time, and the leaders he has spoken to, is a very clear reflection of the priorities and the emergencies that he inherits as president,” Dan Shapiro told the Times of Israel Thursday. “I don’t think there’s any other explanation.”
“He’s taking office facing more crises and emergencies both at home and abroad than any president since Franklin Roosevelt,” said Shapiro. “He’s been very disciplined about focusing on those priorities. At home, it’s addressing the crisis of the pandemic. It’s providing economic relief. It’s building toward more racial justice. And it’s building an administration committed to confronting climate change.”
“Overseas it’s restoring core US alliances, which are with NATO and with Asian countries,” Shapiro continued. “It’s restoring US leadership on multilateral organizations and transnational challenges that has been lacking. It’s addressing the challenge of a rising China, a global strategic rival to the United States, and dealing with an aggressive Russia.”
Indeed, Biden’s phone calls to foreign leaders during his first week in office showed a focus on immigration and trade (Mexico, Canada), shoring up the NATO alliance against Russia (UK, France, Germany, NATO secretary-general, Russia), and sending signals to China and North Korea, with calls to South Korea and Australia.
Since then, and before he called Netanyahu, Biden also called the leaders of China, India, and Japan. Was India really a higher priority than collaborating with Israel on foiling Iran’s nuclear project and its manifold aggressions – in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon – throughout the region? If Iran is a pressing foreign policy issue, and it is, than shouldn’t America’s most loyal ally, which also happens to be the most effective operative in slowing down Iran’s nuclear project that, if completed, would threaten the entire Middle East, have been among the very first countries Biden should have called?
In Tehran, they interpret the long delay in Biden’s calling Netanyahu as a welcome sign of daylight between Washington and Jerusalem, and this emboldens Iran’s leaders to stick with their maximalist demands for a complete lifting of American sanctions before Iran will return to its commitments under the JCPOA. That long delay in calling Israel also must have heartened Mahmoud Abbas, who was already delighted by Biden’s announced intention to turn the spigot of American aid back on.
“The Middle East is not on that first tier, but it’s not unimportant,” Shapiro stressed. “And Israel is not unimportant. The call will happen. I’m certain the call will happen fairly soon.”…
“Israel is not unimportant.” That’s one way — most litotically — to put it. Israel, at this point, is perhaps our closest and most effective ally in the world. It is Israel that practically alone has through repeated acts of derring-do set back the Iranian nuclear project by anywhere from two to five years. Let’s not forget that Iran’s project is not just to wipe out Israel, but to extend its regional power and subjugate Sunni Arabs within a “Shi’a crescent” extending from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. What effect might that have on world oil production and prices?
The long delay in this call, and the fact that it took place only after Biden’s failure to call became an international news story, is interpreted by one and all as a deliberate snub, a sign of Biden’s desire to make clear that the American government is distancing itself from Israel. Under Trump, there was no daylight between the two countries; now there is, as evidenced by this quite obviously intentional snub to Netanyahu. That is how Israelis themselves are interpreting the long delay in calling, and that is how Israel’s mortal enemy, Iran, also interprets Biden’s refusal so far to call Netanyahu, when he has spoken already to almost a dozen leaders.
Given that it takes no time at all to arrange a phone call between leaders, and that the call itself need be nothing more than an exchange of expressions of good will, it made no sense to pretend that Biden had simply been “too busy” to call Netanyahu.
“The very fact that there has not been a phone call could be read by some malign actors as a sign that the US no longer has Israel’s back, said Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.
“It’s unclear why President Biden would wish to signal to all of Israel’s enemies that the United States doesn’t stand with our most important ally in the Middle East.”…
Danielle Pletka was right. This delay in contacting Netanyahu of course will be received by the tea-leaf readers in Iran as a sign Washington is no longer in Netanyahu’s camp. Too many other leaders, including those of our major enemies, China and Russia, were called by Biden before he called Netanyahu. So how could Israelis not be anxious at the timing of this call? It was not innocuous, but was a deliberate distancing by Joe Biden from the Jewish State. It was not an oversight, nor a problem of a President too busy to make a five-minute phone call. It was and is a sign of a chill in the geopolitical air. Even though Biden finally did call, too much time had passed for the original insult to disappear.
No wonder the IDF Chief of Staff, Maj General Aviv Khochavi, gave a speech denouncing any return by the Americans to the Iran Deal, and spoke of how the IDF was considering various options for ensuring that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons, thanks to Israel, going it alone. Some may be reminded of that celebrated cartoon during World War II, when France had fallen, America had not yet joined the war, and Great Britain fought alone against the Nazis. On June 18, 1940 the Evening Standard published a cartoon by David Low. It showed a grim-faced British soldier standing on a rock in the middle of a stormy sea shaking his fist at a squadron of enemy bombers approaching across a pitch black sky. The caption read “Very well. Alone.” You can see it here.
That is what Kochavi was saying; we Israelis will, alone if we have to, make sure Iran never gets the bomb. it’s an attitude of determined self-reliance among Israelis that Biden’s delay in phoning Netanyahu encourages. Is it so hard for Biden to see the damage he has already inflicted on the alliance?
First published in Jihad Watch.