Biden Voices Support for Iron Dome, Plans to Visit Israel on Call With PM Bennett

Biden Voices Support for Iron Dome, Plans to Visit Israel on Call With PM Bennett
President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on Aug. 27, 2021. (Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images)
Nick Ciolino

The White House announced Sunday that President Joe Biden plans to visit Israel later this year.

On a Feb. 6 call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Biden affirmed his “unwavering” support for Israel and agreed to visit the country later this year, according to a White House readout of the conversation.

The White House statement also says two leaders discussed security concerns in the Middle East, including the threat of Iran and its proxies.

Talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have been ongoing for months and will resume in Vienna Tuesday.

Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions against Iran. Tehran has responded by violating the terms of the agreement by increasing the uranium it enriches and stockpiles.

The Biden administration has signaled that it wants to rejoin the deal, which also includes Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. But in December, as talks with Iran seemed to stall, the administration announced it is also preparing for the possibility that diplomacy will fail.

“If diplomacy cannot get on track soon and if Iran’s nuclear program continues to accelerate then we will have no choice but to take additional measures to further restrict Iran’s revenue-producing sectors,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Dec. 9.

But as perhaps a last-ditch effort to salvage the deal, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday signed several short-term sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. Up until that move, the Biden administration had kept the Iran sanctions in place it inherited from its predecessor.

State Department spokesman Ned Price denied the U.S. was granting concessions to Iran when he wrote on Twitter: “We did NOT provide sanctions relief for Iran and WILL NOT until/unless Tehran returns to its commitments under the JCPOA,” using the acronym for the official name of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“We did precisely what the last Administration did: permit our international partners to address growing nuclear nonproliferation and safety risks in Iran.”

On Sunday’s call with Bennett, Biden also made clear his administration’s full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome system.

In September, the House of Representatives approved a bill to provide $1 billion to fund the Israeli anti-missile system. The vote passed with 420 members in favor and only nine voting against the bill.

The Iron Dome’s replenishment is expected to be back on the Senate agenda in the coming weeks.

The readout of Friday’s call also says that Biden “underscored his commitment to expanding stability and partnerships across the Middle East region, as exemplified by the Abraham Accords, together with Israelis and Palestinians enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity.”