Vice President Joe Biden today attempted to reassure Israelis that the White House is not bluffing when the president says he would use military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Speaking at the annual conference of the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobbying group, Aipac, Biden said that the U.S. preferred a diplomatic solution, but that doesn’t mean a military option is off-limits.
The White House has declared that Iran and its nuclear weapons capabilities are the top priority of the Obama second term.
“The president of the United States cannot, and does not, bluff. President Barack Obama is not bluffing,” Biden said to the conference audience in Washington.
While Israel wants assurances that the White House would assist it should it launch a strike to destroy Iranian nuclear plants, many Israelis are skeptical of Obama’s commitment to using the American military in Iran. Particularly now, after experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan in wars that dragged on for a decade. Even though the president last year declared that he wasn’t bluffing, observers thought his statement was meant to put pressure on Iran.
Obama’s commitment to Israel was continually questioned during his first term and during last year’s election. But Biden has long been seen as a staunch ally of Israel.
During his tour of Europe and the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry said time was running out for using diplomatic solutions in Iran, which refuses to accept internationally verified limits on its nuclear program. According to Kerry, allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would encourage nuclear proliferation and heighten tensions in the region.
“But talks will not go on for the sake of talks, and talks cannot become an instrument of delay that will make the situation more dangerous,” Kerry said. “So there is a finite amount of time.”
In the meantime, Israel is coming under fire domestically after it was revealed that the transport ministry is trying to get Palestinians to ride on segregated buses. While the government claims it isn’t forcing the matter, the scheme came after residents in two Jewish settlements complained that Palestinians travelers on the Trans-Samaria road – also known as Highway 5 – between the West Bank and Tel Aviv were a potential threat.
But with logic that sounds suspiciously like that once used in the American South, the transport ministry is insisting the move was “designed to improve the service for Palestinians entering Israel.” However, human rights groups are calling it “blatant racism” that resembles South African-style apartheid.
“They are institutionalizing segregated services for Jews and non-Jews,” Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, an activist with Women For Civil Disobedience, an Israeli-Palestinian campaign group, told the Telegraph. “Many people don’t class the Israeli situation as apartheid because for a long time, Israel refrained from the characteristics of petty apartheid, like separate roads, cafés and buses. This bus situation is a step in the direction of petty apartheid because people are being segregated in their daily activities.”
Avner Ovadia, a transport ministry spokesperson, claimed there was no official ban on Palestinian workers traveling on public buses.
“Furthermore, the transport ministry is not authorized to stop any passenger traveling on these bus routes,” he said.
But the drivers with the Afikim bus company, which operates the Trans-Samaria route, said Palestinians attempting to use the regular services would be pointed toward a different bus.
“We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus, but from what we were told … there will be checks at the checkpoint, and Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses,” one driver told Ynet, an Israeli news website.
Yirsael Maidad, a spokesman for the Jewish Settlers Council, said Israelis were justified in refusing to share buses with Palestinians because they could be suicide bombers.
“Since we ride buses with Arabs every day in Israel, it’s not a racist thing. But for some strange reason, Arabs blow themselves up in buses and Israelis find that very unnerving,” he said. “If you were to ask some bright young radical, he would say forcing Arabs to ride Israeli buses would be a form of colonialism. Having their own buses should be very much welcomed as part of a state-building process.”