JERUSALEM – Something odd and unsettling is going on between Washington and Jerusalem.
U.S. President Joe Biden seems more eager to talk with Iran than Israel.
From the earliest days in office, Biden quickly and enthusiastically launched negotiations with the terror masters in Tehran.
He is openly and proudly offering the Iranian regime billions of dollars – possibly tens of billions – to come back into compliance with the failed nuclear deal of 2015 known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
He has sent negotiators to Vienna to talk with Iranian counterparts.
Indeed, the Iran talks are clearly the most important item on Biden’s Middle East agenda.
Yet Biden took more than a month after taking office to call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, even though he describes Bibi as a personal friend.
He did so only after much criticism both by Republicans and Democrats alike, and a great deal of head-scratching among Israeli officials.
Now, in the midst of hot war between with Gaza-based terrorists, Biden waited three days to pick up a phone and call the leader of America’s most important Middle East ally.
Why did Biden wait until after Hamas and Islamic Jihad had fired more than 1,500 rockets to make the call?
And afterwards, why didn’t Biden speak to reporters?
Why didn’t the president go on camera to personally and forcefully deliver a clear, unequivocal message condemning Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the terror masters in Tehran who fund and arm these groups?
Instead, the White House simply released what is known in diplomatic parlance as a “read-out” on the call.
“President Biden spoke today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” the statement began. “He condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”
“He also conveyed the United States’ encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm,” the statement continued. “He shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace. He updated the Prime Minister on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with regional countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, as well as with Palestinian officials. The two leaders agreed to maintain the close consultation between their teams, which has included consistent engagement by their respective foreign ministers, defense ministers, chiefs of defense, and national security advisors, and to stay in touch personally in the days ahead.”
On their face, the words were helpful.
That Biden “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups” was certainly an improvement over the mealy-mouthed statements issued by the White House and State Department over the last few days urging “both sides to de-escalate.”
But where is the moral clarity?
Why did Biden – an avowed defender of Israel historically – not speak to the American people, to the people of Israel, and to our mutual enemies – on camera, in person, with passion and conviction – so that there could be no doubt that there is no daylight when it comes to terrorism between the US and Israel?
In other words: why so little, and so late?
The Prime Minister’s Office also issued a “read out,” but it was unusually brief – and Netanyahu did not go on camera to discuss the call either.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone with U.S. President Joe Biden. The prime minister thanked President Biden for the American backing for Israel's right to self-defense. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel would continue to take action to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.”
There are other questions, too.
Why after more than 100 days in office has Biden not even appointed an Ambassador to Israel?
And why does he seem so much more eager to talk to – and make huge concessions towards – the Iranians than to personally engage and stand with Israelis?
On Wednesday, 43 U.S. senators – led by Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican – pointedly raised this issue.
They sent a letter to Biden urging him to “stand with our closest ally in the region, Israel” and to stop “negotiating and potentially offering sanctions relief to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” especially while “Israel is under attack from Iranian-backed terrorists.”
“Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel,” wrote the senators. “They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem. This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”
“The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel,” continued the senators. “As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks.”
Dear Mr. President:
We write with regard to the ongoing rocket attacks against Israel by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel. They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem. This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran. This is especially important as Iran is supporting terrorist activity against the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel.
As you know, Palestinian terrorist groups launched more than 1,000 rockets targeting Israel over the last few days alone. This includes the first rockets aimed at Jerusalem since 2014. While the United States and countries around the world condemned these rocket attacks, Iran resoundingly supports this aggression. Shortly after the attacks began, and as they continued, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that Palestinians should unite to “use the tools of their disposal” to attack Israel, which he recently called not a nation, but a “terrorist garrison.” Even the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who currently is supervising Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna, called Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh to express Iran’s support for the group’s actions.
The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in 1997 and as such, is prohibited from providing any funds to Hamas. Iran, however, is a longtime financial and material supporter of Hamas. The United States engaging in active negotiations with Iran and potentially providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief will no doubt contribute to Iran’s support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who attack Americans and our allies. We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided. Doing so would demonstrate a firm commitment to our closest ally in the region and to our own security interests.
The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel. As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.