The Biden-Bennett summit: A US-Israeli reset?

Marwan Bishara

This week’s US-Israeli summit will certainly be overshadowed by the Afghan fiasco. Less certain, however, is how US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will leverage the debacle in their August 26 talks, which are likely to focus on Palestine, Iran, and China.

Since both leaders are facing daunting challenges at home, and both governments have agreed to avoid political surprises and public outbursts that undermined the “special relationship” in the past, the media is likely to find the meeting dim and dull.

Indeed, with Biden facing a political firestorm over Afghanistan and Bennett lacking in credibility, statesmanship and political weight, having won just 6 percent of the vote in the last elections, the visit may be more optics than substance.

Still, there may be more behind-the-scene disagreement than meets the eye.

Biden will push Bennett to abandon Israel’s cooperation with China, notably in the hi-tech sphere, while Bennett will pressure Biden to abandon the Iran nuclear deal negotiations. The two will disagree on what is next for Palestine but promise rather disingenuously not to abandon the “peace process”, or the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Biden administration is laser-focused on its greatest strategic challenge, China, which has been exploiting US blunders in the likes of Afghanistan and Iraq and expanding its influence at a breathtaking rate in the Greater Middle East, Asia and beyond.

It is alarmed that China’s investment in Israel has exceeded $19bn in the past 18 years, including $9bn in technology, while bilateral trade reached $17.5bn last year.

Biden will tell Bennett that, as the major beneficiary of advanced US research and development and of US foreign aid largesse, Israel is strictly bound by its agreements with the US, and must therefore “cease and desist”, or face the consequences.

Israel has largely ignored such warnings by previous US administrations, but Biden may not be in the mood for games and may lose it.

If not on China, then on Iran.

Bennett is expected to leverage the US humiliation in Afghanistan to pressure Biden to stand up to Iran and its new hardline president, even though the US president has made clear his intentions to reduce US military and strategic commitments in the Middle East.

One fact mainstream media conveniently and willfully ignores is that Tehran is a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and its nuclear programme remains largely peaceful, while Israel refuses to join the NPT and is the only nuclear military power in the Middle East.

But Israel will not let the facts get in the way of its fury at US policy towards Iran, and the scenes of the US withdrawing forces from the Greater Middle East. Despite all its bravado, nothing worries Israel more than the US abandoning the region.

That is why Bennett will push Biden to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and prepare for alternative scenarios, including supporting Israeli unilateral actions against Iran.

At the very least, Bennett’s fallback position is reportedly to demand that the US impose new harsher conditions on Iran and compensate Israel in case of a return to the deal.

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