Ashkenazi warns against ‘confrontational’ Israeli approach to Biden

FM says military option against Iran must be on the table, and speaks on panel with UAE, Bahrain counterparts.

FOREIGN MINISTER Gabi Ashkenazi greets his Bahraini counterpart at Ben-Gurion Airport in November. (photo credit: MIRI SHIMONOVICH/FOREIGN MINISTRY)
FOREIGN MINISTER Gabi Ashkenazi greets his Bahraini counterpart at Ben-Gurion Airport in November.
Israel should not take a publicly oppositional approach to the Biden administration, but should always maintain a military option to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday.
Ashkenazi made the remarks at the Institute for Security Studies Annual Conference, before joining a panel with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.
“I wouldn’t recommend a confrontational policy in the media towards the new administration,” Ashkenazi said. “We need to be able to exhaust the options to reach a professional, real and transparent conversation in a closed room, and strive for a situation in which the Israeli concerns – central of which is to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear capabilities – are heard.”
The Abraham Accords between Israel and four Arab states “amplifies the regional voice when we talk to the new administration” about Iran, the foreign minister said, adding that he’s glad that Biden administration officials have said they will consult with Israel and other relevant countries before moving forward in talks with the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, Ashkenazi said Israel must “keep a credible military option on the table.” He brought the example of Syria’s efforts to build a nuclear reactor, which Israel bombed in 2007, after the US did not take action.
“I am a member of the school of thought that Israel must rely on itself when it comes to existential threats,” he said. “We can ask friends for help, but we must have the [military] option on the table.”
Ashkenazi was IDF chief of staff when the senior political echelons – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak – strongly considered launching an attack on Iran. Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Meir Dagan opposed that course of action at the time.
Asked whether Israel’s new allies in the Gulf would work with Israel in that regard, Ashkenazi said “I have no doubt that our partners in the UAE and Bahrain share our concerns about Iranian nuclear designs, but it is probably too early to assume that we will all come together concerning a military option.”
DURING THE panel with his Emirati and Bahraini counterparts, Ashkenazi said that “it’s no secret we are on the same page when it comes to Iran,” and that he is “happy and optimistic” about working with Israel’s new partners in the region on the matter.
Ashkenazi highlighted the significance of the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain, saying it is different from Egypt and Jordan in that it is a “warm peace.”
“I see positive momentum and the will to advance [peace] by both the political establishment and the people,” Ashkenazi said. “I think it’s a great thing for Israel. It improves national security and brings more stability.”
Gargash and Al-Zayani also mentioned the Iranian threat during their remarks, while highlighting the greater importance of diplomatic relations and peace with Israel.
Al-Zayani said that Israel and Bahrain can cooperate on voicing their shared concerns about Tehran to the Biden administration. “[Hearing] the legitimate concerns of regional states is essential to achieving lasting security and stability in the Middle East,” he said.
“If we can make clear that these are not the concerns of individual nations, but are deep and widespread across the region – and we can do so with a clear and consistent position – we will have much more impact in conveying the region’s views to our American allies.”
Gargash said the UAE’s priorities are “diplomacy and de-escalation,” and that “any rational approach must take into account Iran’s ballistic missiles and support for instability in many Arab countries.”
The UAE “has a desire to see solutions through diplomatic engagement,” Gargash said. “In this context the UAE will continue to work hard to consolidate its agenda of tolerance as a counterweight to messages of extremism.”
Gargash also said that in the view of the UAE, “more robust American engagement and leadership [in the Middle East] is most welcome.”
Al-Zayani said he is optimistic that as the Abraham Accords’ benefits become clear, more countries will normalize ties with Israel.
“Momentum for genuine cooperation would spread across the Middle East, bringing peace, security and prosperity for its people,” he said.
Members of the Biden administration have “more than sufficient experience” to understand that the trend of the Abraham Accords – “the prospect of better relations among states of the Middle East – is in the American interest” Al-Zayani said.
Both Gulf state foreign ministers expressed hope that the Abraham Accords will lead to progress in solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, based on a two-state solution.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that "Tehran's irresponsible behavior in recent weeks shows how important it is to stop Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons."
Maas argued that the best way to do that is to return to the 2015 Iran deal, which he said "allows the greatest transparency."