In the midst of political turmoil in the United States, an election campaign in Israel, and a worldwide pandemic, Touro President Dr. Alan Kadish hosted a virtual dialogue last Sunday with Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. The conversation took place on Zoom with an audience of more than 600 people.
The dialogue covered many of the policies that have shaped recent U.S.–Israel relations, from the JOCPA (“Iran Deal”) to the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords. Ambassador Shapiro noted that President-Elect Biden has already pledged to keep the Embassy in Jerusalem and build on the Abraham Accords.
Daniel Shapiro served with distinction for a quarter of a century on the staff of the White House and of several members of Congress as well as on the National Security Council before becoming the United States ambassador to Israel in 2010. He is now a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. While he has advised and supported President-Elect Biden through the years, he stressed that the views he shared were his own.
Dr. Kadish opened the conversation by asking about the controversial Iran nuclear deal. Signed in 2015 by Iran and several world powers including the United States, the deal placed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018. Iran began ignoring limitations on its nuclear program a year later. President-Elect Biden has pledged to return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes compliance.
Mr. Shapiro said that the deal, while not perfect, was designed to buy time to deal with what had been identified as the totally unacceptable risk of Iran having a nuclear weapon. Through the deal, Iran could not obtain a nuclear weapon in less than one year, allowing the United States and its allies time to incentivize and pressure Iran to stop nuclear weapon development.
After the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, Shapiro explained that the United States was isolated. Other nations, including Russia, China, and the European Union did not withdraw from the deal. The United States ramped up sanctions, but Iran responded by enriching uranium.
“We are back to where we were. Iran is closer to having nuclear weapons,” Ambassador Shapiro said.
As for the future, Mr. Shapiro said that President-Elect Biden has stated that he is agreeable to reentering the deal in the context of mutual compliance, with the ultimate goal of a longer, more strategic agreement. Iran would need to relinquish enriched uranium and de-install centrifuges. The Biden administration still has leverage. Mr. Shapiro explained, “Biden has learned that unilateral sanctions can be effective, and Iran knows that they can be reapplied any time.”
Mr. Shapiro also said the President-Elect Biden welcomed the Abraham Accords, the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. What is notable now, he said, is how different this deal is from the cold peace between Israel and Jordan or Israel and Egypt, which affected governments much more than the citizens of Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.
“In the UAE we are already seeing a rush of partnerships between banks, hospitals, universities, tech, and tourism. The UAE population is very open and welcoming,” he said.
Bipartisan support for Israel has always been a tenet of American diplomacy. Recent political rancor and partisanship in United States politics has directed attention to some Democrats who articulate a different view. However, Ambassador Shapiro stressed, the vast majority of Congress and the Democratic Party leaders have continued to consistently support Israel.
He noted that a Biden administration will continue to reflect this strong bipartisan support for Israel’s security, a strong commitment to fight challenges to Israel at the United Nations, overwhelming opposition to the BDS movement, recognition of the threats Israel faces, and support for a two-state solution.
“These are still the mainstream positions of the Democratic Party and I think bipartisan,” he said.