Transcribed from: “Address by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.” YouTube. YouTube, 08 May 2012. Web. 10 May 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHF6VYKvhlE.
Before becoming Vice-President in 2009, Joe Biden achieved a substantive reputation as US Senator, particularly as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was the longest serving Senator in Delaware’s history (36 years). Biden developed a reputation of working with colleagues across the aisle (John McCain, Bob Dole and others) to pass numerous measures, especially those against religious persecution overseas and for bi-partisan support of Israel security needs and particularly Israel’s maintenance of its qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors. There is a long record of Biden’s votes – more than 10,000 of them. Many of them collectively provide insights into his views about Israel, the Middle East, Iran and other foreign and domestic issues. He has been a lifelong supporter of Israeli security and Israel defending itself, but that has not kept him from disagreeing with Israeli Prime Ministers over time on other matters. In June 1982, during Israeli Prime Minister Begin’s visit to Washington after he sent Israeli troops into Lebanon to destroy the PLO, after meeting with President Reagan, Begin and numerous senators met where Biden, praised Begin (the Israeli army had not yet entered deeply into Lebanon) and like his Democratic and Republican peers, Biden severely criticized Begin for his country’s continued settlement’s policies in the West Bank (NYT, June 23, 1982). In March 2015, Biden, who presided over the Senate as Vice President, boycotted the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress along with four dozen members of the Congress. Members boycotted the speech because the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, circumvented diplomatic norms by inviting a foreign leader to address Congress when the invitation of foreign leaders generally comes from the President. The move to boycott Netanyahu’s speech was not a protest against a foreign leader trying to influence US foreign policy but by doing it as a diplomatic slap against the office of the president.
Throughout his political life, Biden maintained staunch support for Israeli security. Several recent examples. In a May 2012 speech, Biden told a national convention of Conservative rabbis meeting in North Atlanta, “were I an Israeli, were I a Jew, I would not contract out my security to anybody, even to a loyal, loyal friend like the United States.” The following year at the March 2013 annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Biden, in a very lengthy speech about Israel and the Middle East, laid out all instances during his years in public service where he had repeatedly supported Israel’s national security. He defended Israel’s right to fight against Hezbollah, Hamas, and against attempts to “isolate and delegitimize Israel.” In March 2016 at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, he proclaimed again his “unyielding commitment to the survival, security, and the success of Israel.” After the UAE-Israel August 2020 Agreement was announced, Biden said, “Israel and the United Arab Emirates have taken a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East. The UAE’s offer to recognize recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly needed act of statesmanship. And it is a critical recognition that Israel is a vibrant, integral part of the Middle East that is here to stay. Israel can and will be a valued strategic and economic partner to all who welcome it.”
Which brings me to Iran. We know that Israel’s leadership, justifiably in my view, views Iran as an existential threat to Israel. Make no mistake: an Iran with nuclear weapons would also pose a grave threat to U.S. security as well. That’s why our policy is not one of containment. Let me say it again, the U.S. policy under President Obama is not one of containment. It is straight forward: we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. By whatever means we need. Period! PERIOD! One of the great benefits of my long relationship with Israeli leaders is [that] some have become my close personal friends—in and out of office. One who’s in office now is Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister. When Ehud last came to see me, he brought his delegation of experts and military personnel, and I had my national security team. We looked at each other and we said: “Let them talk. You and I, let’s go off privately”. And he and I sat in my office for well over an hour, and he talked from the heart about his concerns on Iran. The full delegation, and our experts, they sat out in the lobby and they had a good conversation, a meaningful one. But we knew we had to talk to one another, look each other in the eye: take a measure of the man. Whether or not he was speaking for Bibi and whether or not I was speaking for Barack Obama, he reiterated his concern with Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon and reemphasized that Iran posed an existential threat to Israel. And I made it clear to him, and I want to make it clear to all of you , unambiguously: I told him then and he could repeat it, that were I an Israeli, were I a Jew, I would not contract out my security to anybody – even a loyal, loyal, loyal friend like the United States. I made it clear to the President and me, for our administration, that if Israel reached the conclusion – based on the facts as they could best determine them – that Iran was on the verge of eliminating their ability to respond physically to set that program back 2-5 years, I understood. I understood. We were not telling Israel what they could and could not do— because, again, I would not contract out my nation’s security. And clearly, clearly, no Jewish state should ever assume that history has changed so fundamentally that they would do that. We also discussed … there are experts on both sides…their national security people, ours, their intelligence community, their military community … we’re on the exact same page… the exact same page… the same assessment: That Iran does not have the capacity and that it is some distance away and that we need to be exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program and sharing information. And we have shared everything, even those things that could be taken, if they decided to, out of context. As a matter of fact, the Israelis and some of the information they have shared have calmed us down about what it really means. The bottom line is Ehud and I both agree that the remaining space for diplomacy, the window has not closed, in terms of the ability of the Israelis, if they choose on their own, to act militarily.
But diplomacy backed by serious, serious sanctions and pressure, to succeed though, as the President clearly stated… on that score the window is closing in the near term. This cannot go on forever. When we took office, I want to remind everybody— because my deceased wife used to say “the greatest gift G-d gave mankind was the ability to forget”, (and my mother would quickly add “were that not true one would only have one child”)— when we took office, let me remind you , there was virtually no international pressure on Iran. We were the problem. We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe. The international pressure on Iran was stuck in neutral. As a matter of fact, Iran’s influence in the previous year 6 years was growing in the region. Not diminishing, growing in the region. The relationship with Syria was obvious. The use of a staging point for Hezbollah and Hamas was clear. The rest of the region was basically stiff-arming the United States and saying: “you need to be engaged more in missile defense, you need to be engaged more in….” We were being criticized. The European capitals were being unilateral. And Tehran’s allies… and Tehran had allies, and were intimidating their neighbors. And America’s leadership was in doubt. We were neither fully respected by our friends [nor] feared by our opponents. Today it is starkly, starkly different. Iran has one and only one ally in the region: Syria, which is under siege , greatly diminished, weakened as a sure and certain sponsor and jump off point for Hamas and Hezbollah. And, needless to say, we continue to provide support for those in the region who feel threatened. And now [they] are willing to step up, because they are certain about our intention, our commitment—allowing resources to be prepositioned, allowing us to help them in their defense budgets. There’s an increasingly united concern in the region about Iran, and a greater willingness to work together to deal with the threat it poses. And I would argue that it’s not just because of the legitimate threat, but because of the President’s efforts: Iran is now isolated and the United States is not isolated.
And by the way, does that mean this will all work? That we can go away and say “obviously they are going to capitulate?” No! None of us know that for certain, we are not naïve. But because President Obama understood that by seeking in good faith to engage the Iranians in the first instance, we are going to be able to engage the rest of the world in joining us in imposing the clearest, most significant, most damaging sanctions in this century and, I would argue, the latter half of the last. By going the extra diplomatic mile, presenting Iran with a clear choice, we demonstrate to the region and to the world, that Iran is the problem, not the United States. That’s why China, that’s why Russia, that’s why Europe, that’s why the rest of the world has joined us in these sanctions. And the President deserves the credit. I hope by know no one doubts that the president is willing to use power, that the President is smart. Physical power teamed up with tough diplomacy has turned the tables on Iran and secured the strongest unilateral international sanction in history with all the powers, as I said, including Russia and China, participating. Now Iran is more isolated and the international community more united in their effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon than ever before. Tehran has deep difficulties with their economy – deep difficulties acquiring basic equipment needed for the technology to produce nuclear weapon and missile programs. And they are having difficulty just doing normal international transactions. They are increasing cut off from the international financial system, unable to do the most basic business transactions. It has struggled to buy refined petroleum and goods that it needs to modernize its oil sector and its gas sector. World leading companies are deciding to stop doing business with Iran. Already close to sixty billion dollars in related energy related projects have been put on hold or shut down. And as a result of this unprecedented pressure, the Iran, excuse me, Iran is back to the negotiating table. They’re even having trouble figuring out how to insure their ships. That’s why their back to the negotiating table. Because it’s biting- its biting badly.
And by the way, anyone who thinks Iran is a monolith is making a gigantic historic mistake. The dissension between Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader is palpable. They will not both be around two years from now, and my bet is Ahmadinejad is gone, ladies and gentlemen. Beyond that, the dissension internally is real. We so mistake this notion that there’s this one political monolith. Look: neither the President [n]or I are naïve, that’s why these talks are being undertaken and the international community is working with us and is on the same exact page. We’re not releasing, were not doing anything but tighten the screws. As of July, as of July, the most significant sanctions will go into effect, with the European Union having voted for severe sanctions on the importation of Iranian oil. Just last month, the President signed a new executive order targeted companies that allow Iran, and the only friend in the region Syria, to use information technology to root and eliminate voices of dissent. And by the way, unless Iran changes course, the pressure will keep increasing. By the way, this embargo is due to go in effect in July. Remember I said it here, well before the elections so you can judge me, it will have a devastating impact on the Iranian economy and force them to think even harder. The purpose of this, the purpose of this pressure is not punishment… is to convince Iran that the price is an overwhelming price to be paid for pursuing nuclear weapons capability. That the price is too high, and the time is now for them to make good on its commitment to the international community. As the President made clear, we take no option off the table as part of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.