Iran: What Bibi said, what Biden didn’t


For Iran policy watchers, there were two intriguing moments during this week’s Israel visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

The first was  in the joint appearance by Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here’s Bibi:

I think this unbreakable bond will help our two countries meet the two historic challenges that we face today in the Middle East.  The first and foremost among them is the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and the second is the need to advance a secure peace between Israel and our Palestinian and other Arab neighbors.

I very much appreciate the efforts of President Obama and the American government to lead the international community to place tough sanctions on Iran.  The stronger those sanctions are, the more likely it will be that the Iranian regime will have to choose between advancing its nuclear program and advancing the future of its own permanence.  I think that the international community and the leading countries in the international community have to join the American effort.  And Israel has been helping out with key countries and continues to do so.

Now it’s no secret the Israeli leaders would like, in the utopian sense, to see regime change in Iran. But this is the first time I’ve seen a practical investment in regime change from the mouth of a senior Israeli official or any Israeli official who isn’t Uri Lubrani. Let’s tease it apart:

–Sanctions may bring about regime change;

–We not only back sanctions, we are making the case for them to "key countries."

My other eyebrow was raised during Biden’s Tel Aviv University speech on Thursday, in which his goal was to reassure Israel that when it came to security issues, the two countries are on the same page:

Iran thus far has refused to cooperate, as the whole world has witnessed.  Instead it has engaged in more violations of international obligations, like undeclared enrichment facilities that were recently exposed by the United States, and the decision to enrich uranium to 20 percent to build more — and to build more enrichment facilities, all violations.  It rejected a good-faith offer to exchange its low enriched uranium for fuel that could power a research reactor to produce medical isotopes.  And it continues to deploy thugs to lock up and beat down those who bravely take to the streets in a quest for basic justice in their own country.

The Iranian leadership’s continuing defiance has set the stage for our efforts to mobilize the world to impose meaningful sanctions that clarify for the Iranian leadership the stark choice:  follow international rules or face harsh penalties and further isolation.

You have to acknowledge that today Iran is more isolated with its own people as well as the region and in the world than it has been at any time in the past two decades.  The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period.  I know — I know that for Israel — (applause) — I know that for Israel, there is no greater existential strategic threat.  Trust me, we get that.  It’s also a threat — the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is also a threat to the security — short-term, mid-term, and long-term — to the United States of America.

And many other countries in this region and around the world strongly oppose a nuclear-armed Iran.  It would threaten them, trigger an arms race in this region, and undermine the efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, which would be a sorry outcome for such a promising beginning of the 21st century.  For all those reasons, confronting this challenge is and must be a top national priority for the United States of America.

We are determined to keep the pressure on Iran so that it will change its course.

Very much what Israelis want to hear — but what’s missing is the "nothing off the table" boilerplate suggesting that a military strike may still be an option. Obama administration officials — chief among them, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have until recently striven to sustain this phrase as a consistency not only with Israel but with the Bush administration.

I wonder if what we’re seeing here is a shift in emphases: from military confrontation to a sustained effort to throw out the bums.

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