Avi Abraham Benlolo: The million-dollar question: What will Biden do about Iran?

The best approach would be to keep the pressure on Tehran, while reaching out and trying to bring Iran into the world community of peaceful nations

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Israeli leaders finally had “the” call with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden. Undoubtedly, the very personal relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump has made digesting the new reality challenging. Not surprisingly, the Israeli electorate has been overwhelmingly supportive of Trump and his administration, and its loyalty is understandable.

After all, Donald Trump is the most pro-Israel defender who has ever ruled from the Oval. No previous American administration could possibly rival the Trump administration’s support for the Jewish state and the advancement of peace in the Middle East. The icing on the cake may yet materialize before Trump’s departure with Saudi Arabia joining the Abraham Peace Accords alongside Israel, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Sudan.

Initial diplomatic reports indicate that both Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin had separate and warm calls with Biden. According to a statement put out by the Biden transition team, “the president-elect expressed his determination to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys bipartisan support” adding that “the president-elect noted he expects to work closely with the prime minister to address the many challenges confronting our countries.”

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Not surprisingly, the Israeli electorate has been overwhelmingly supportive of Trump

Even while Israeli leaders had previously congratulated Biden on his election results, they attempted to walk a fine line to not upset the Trump administration, given the election is being contested and the president has still not conceded. Biden’s conversation this week with Netanyahu is significant in that the prime minister has referred to him for the first time as “president-elect” — thus now officially recognizing him as America’s next president.

At a press conference this week in Jerusalem with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bahrain’s foreign minister, Netanyahu took a moment to thank the U.S. president for his devotion and dedication to the state of Israel, thus subtly and diplomatically acknowledging the anticipated transition to a new administration.

Even while president-elect Biden has had a long and fairly positive relationship with the State of Israel, the Democratic party has shifted further left and therefore, everyone is wondering what this will all mean for the peace process and Israel’s security. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, told me that she believes Biden is supportive of the Abraham Accords and normalization in the Middle East with ties between Israel and its neighbours.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, from left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed display their copies of signed agreements while U.S. President Donald Trump looks on at the signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords, at the White House on Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Tom Brenner/Reuters

Conversely, Hassan-Nahoum brought up the million-dollar question that everyone is wondering about: what will a Biden administration do with Iran and its nuclear program: “Is he going to try and cut a new deal with them? Is he going to try and give them some oxygen? I hope he just looks around the gulf and has the clarity to know who the good guys and bad guys are. If he does that, then we will be OK. If he does cut a deal with Iran, I think it’s just going to strengthen the non-Muslim Brotherhood non-Iran countries to join forces together.”

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The same sentiment is being shared across the region. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal has warned Biden against pursuing a deal with Iran and especially re-entering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iranian nuclear deal. Turki, who is a former Saudi intelligence chief and Ambassador to the U.S. believes that it would give Iran time to develop its nuclear weapons program and spread its influence across the Middle East. “Mr. president-elect, do not repeat the mistakes and shortcomings of the first deal” he said.

I for one believe the Biden administration’s best approach is to keep the pressure on Iran, while reaching out and trying to bring it into the world community of peaceful nations. Given the regime’s hostile and anti-Semitic nature and continued partnership with such oppressive nations as Cuba and Venezuela, it’s highly doubtful the Ayatollah will mellow his ignoramus viewpoint about the world. This is a regime that is religiously and ideologically driven, even if self-harm is at stake.

It's highly doubtful the Ayatollah will mellow his viewpoint

Still, political theorists like Aaron David Miller believe in a renewed Biden approach to Middle East diplomacy that advocates a return to multilateralism and collaboration. He believes that Trump was great for Netanyahu, while Biden will be great for Israel. He says, “the administration’s Iran policy of maximum pressure has hurt Iran’s economy with economic sanctions. But it has done little to stop its nuclear program.”

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In fact, America’s maximum pressure on Iran has served as an example to its neighbours that peace is better than sanctions and definitely better than war. The Iranians have been running scared since Trump came to power. Before departing office, Barack Obama left them a $1.5-billion cash gift as part of the JCPOA agreement. It only served to sustain and fund their expansion into Syria and Lebanon and their resulting encroachment on Israel’s borders. If we are going to take an evidence-based approach to Iran, we need to be realistic about this horrible regime.

Some have speculated that like Obama, Trump is planning his own “gift” to Iran. But it seems more likely that Trump’s final gift to Israel will be Jonathan Pollard.? Pollard’s five-year parole — after 28 years in prison — ends this week and the Jewish-American alleged spy will be free if restrictions are not renewed. Trump should look American spite in the face and pardon Pollard in his last weeks in office.

Time will tell what approach a new Biden administration will undertake. Perhaps he will surprise us all and become Israel’s new best U.S. president. Let’s wait and see.

Avi Benlolo?is a human-rights activist. His website is avibenlolo.org.

? Email: avibenlolo@icloud.com

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