x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Biden: 'Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests'

When the US vice president Joe Biden said this, was he giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, or simply stating the nature of national sovereignty as it applies to Israel and all other nations? In a television interview Biden said: "we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."

"Biden: Israel has 'sovereign right' to attack Iran" blared a headline on Israel's Ynet after the US vice president Joe Biden was interviewed on US television on Sunday. "Israel is free to do whatever it deems necessary to remove the Iranian nuclear threat, US Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday," Ynet reported. Likewise, Israel's Haaretz echoed: "US Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the Obama administration would not stand in Israel's way should the latter chooses to take military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat." Has the US now given Israel a green light to attack Iran? The transcript of the ABC News interview suggests that Mr Biden perhaps had a greater interest in underlining the fact that Israel and the United States are two sovereign nations each with their own separate national interests, rather than that America might be encouraging its close ally to engage in military action. ABC News interviewer, George Stephanopoulos: [The Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that he agreed with President Obama to give until the end of the year for this whole process of engagement to work. After that, he's prepared to make matters into his own hands. Is that the right approach? Joe Biden: Look, Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else. Stephanopoulos: Whether we agree or not? Biden: Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behaviour as to how to proceed. What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues. If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice. Stephanopoulos: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear programme, militarily the United States will not stand in the way? Biden: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country. Stephanopoulos: You say we can't dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike. Biden: I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests. Earlier in the interview, Mr Biden reiterated that the US along with the other members of the permanent five plus one, Britain, China, France, and Russia, plus Germany, remain prepared to sit down and negotiate with Iran on its nuclear programme. At the same time that Mr Biden's interview was broadcast, the top US military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, told CBS News that a military strike on Iran would be "very destabilising". In The National, Tony Karon noted: "the election fiasco has turned the political dynamics, both in Washington and in Tehran, against any short-term progress towards a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. Iran's political crisis is not a contest between a cohesive regime and protesters on the streets as much as it is a profound schism inside all the political and clerical structures of the regime itself. "While demonstrations may be suppressed, the power struggle within the regime is likely to continue for months, leaving the government weakened and divided in ways that militate against reaching any compromises on a nuclear issue that has been elevated to a matter of national pride. The streets may be quiet now, but it could be many months before the corridors of power in Tehran are sufficiently stabilised to allow for the regime to respond to Mr Obama's overtures. And of course, while the competing factions in Iran differ substantially in terms of how to handle relations with the West, they concur on the insistence that Iran continue enriching uranium. "For Mr Obama, the political calculation has become even more difficult: it is no coincidence that those in Washington pushing hardest for him to be tough on Iran have long been the most hostile to a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, instead pushing for a punitive strategy that begins with escalated sanctions and, should those fail to deter Iran, ends with military strikes." Late last week, John Bolton who served briefly as US ambassador to the United Nations under the George W Bush administration, wrote in The Washington Post: "Only those most theologically committed to negotiation still believe Iran will fully renounce its nuclear programme. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has a 'Plan B,' which would allow Iran to have a 'peaceful' civil nuclear power programme while publicly 'renouncing' the objective of nuclear weapons. Obama would define such an outcome as 'success,' even though in reality it would hardly be different from what Iran is doing and saying now. A 'peaceful' uranium enrichment programme, 'peaceful' reactors such as Bushehr and 'peaceful' heavy-water projects like that under construction at Arak leave Iran with an enormous breakout capability to produce nuclear weapons in very short order. And anyone who believes the Revolutionary Guard Corps will abandon its weaponisation and ballistic missile programmes probably believes that there was no fraud in Iran's June 12 election. See 'huge credibility gap,' supra. "In short, the stolen election and its tumultuous aftermath have dramatically highlighted the strategic and tactical flaws in Obama's game plan. With regime change off the table for the coming critical period in Iran's nuclear programme, Israel's decision on using force is both easier and more urgent. Since there is no likelihood that diplomacy will start or finish in time, or even progress far enough to make any real difference, there is no point waiting for negotiations to play out. In fact, given the near certainty of Obama changing his definition of 'success,' negotiations represent an even more dangerous trap for Israel. "Those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are left in the near term with only the option of targeted military force against its weapons facilities." Meanwhile, The New York Times reported: "An important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country's supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country's clerical establishment. "A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult. " 'This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,' said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. 'Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.' "The announcement came on a day when Mr Moussavi released documents detailing a campaign of fraud by the current president's supporters, and as a close associate of the supreme leader called Mr Moussavi and former President Mohammad Khatami 'foreign agents,' saying they should be treated as criminals."

pwoodward@thenational.ae