Vice President Joe Biden addresses the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference on March 4 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP)
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WASHINGTON — Lamenting intense uncertainty throughout the Middle East, Vice President Joe Biden told a powerful pro-Israel lobby Monday that it's in the United States' interest to protect Israel against threats to its existence.
In a prelude to President Obama's upcoming trip to Israel — his first as president — Biden vowed a nimble and resolute U.S. response to a fluctuating array of threats in Iran, Syria and Egypt and said only through engagement would the U.S. navigate the challenges presented by the Arab Spring.
He told the more than 13,000 Israel supporters at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference that efforts to delegitimize Israel represent the "most dangerous, pernicious" change he's witnessed in relation to Israel's security and said Obama would continue to be a bulwark against attempts to undermine the Jewish state.
"It is not a matter of debate. Don't raise it with us. Do not raise it with us," Biden said. "It is not negotiable."
Arguing the U.S. and Israel have a shared interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which Israel views as an existential threat, Biden said the U.S. still prefers a diplomatic solution, but said the window for such opportunities is closing. He said the Obama administration would not back down from its pledge to intervene militarily should all other options fail.
"President Barack Obama is not bluffing," Biden said.
But Biden cautioned that if Israel or the U.S. acts too hastily, it could risk losing the backing of the international community.
"It is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected, to avoid any confrontation," Biden said to muted applause. "That matters because God forbid we have to act, it's important that the rest of the world is with us."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the conference by video link from Jerusalem, pushed back against such hesitations, reflecting the degree of tension still present between the U.S. and its closest Mideast ally in their joint efforts to stave off a nuclear Iran.
"From the bottom of my heart and from the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran," Netanyahu said.
The U.S. and world nations have imposed a crippling set of sanctions on Iran's oil and financial industries in hopes of forcing Tehran back to the negotiating table and persuading it to give up nuclear ambitions. Israel and Netanyahu have repeatedly hinted Israel's readiness to use military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, an endeavor the United States likely would be dragged into.
Iran insists the program is intended for peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical uses.