JERUSALEM — US Vice President Joe Biden, in talks Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, touted military coordination the two nations are conducting with Russia to safeguard their respective interests in Syria.
"It is good we are cooperating with Russia in Syria," Biden told reporters in a joint meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem.
"That would not have come out of either one of our mouths, or at least mine, four or five years ago. But the truth is Russia has seen the Lord on some of these issues as well," Biden said.
In his morning meeting with Netanyahu, Biden deplored the spate of so-called lone wolf terror attacks against Israel, which on Tuesday claimed the life of a two-tour US military veteran visiting here with classmates from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University.
The victim, 29-year-old Taylor Force, was a 2009 graduate of West Point and served as a field artillery officer with the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan through August 2014.
Force was fatally stabbed by a knife-wielding Palestinian on a seaside promenade not far from where Biden was meeting at the time with former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jaffa and where he later had dinner with his family.
The incident was just one of three attacks that occurred Tuesday throughout Israel, wounding 15 and resulting in the deaths of all three perpetrators in addition to Force.
"Let me say in no uncertain terms, the United States of America condemns these attacks and condemns the failure to condemn these attacks," Biden said. "It just brings home that it happens and it can happen anywhere at any time."
In an obvious reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he was scheduled to meet in Ramallah later in the day, Biden said, "This cannot become an accepted modus operandi. This cannot be viewed by civilized leaders as an appropriate way."
Biden assured Netanyahu that Washington stands behind Israel's right to defend itself.
"That is why we have done more to bolster Israel's security than any other administration in history."
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden visited Israel President Reuven Rivlin, where he once again expressed condolences to Force's family. He hailed the victim of Tuesday's attack as "an American hero, a man who fought in two tours in the military — in Afghanistan and in Iraq. A man who was a graduate of what we believe is the finest military academy in the world, West Point."
The vice president then proceeded to share a lengthy emotional account of how he personally keeps tally of US servicemen and women who fall in the line of duty. He noted that, like in Israel, the US takes to heart every victim of terror.
"We take very seriously, as you do here, the death of every innocent civilian, every warrior that comes as a consequence of terror. I carry in my pocket every day my schedule. On the back of my schedule there is a black box. I have my staff every morning, at around 5:30, contact the Pentagon. On that box is the list of the number of troops who have died to date from the beginning in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting terror."
According to Biden's count, the number of killed is 6,740, "not 6,700 and some."
The number of wounded is 52,365 — "not 52,000 plus."
"The reason I say this is because every single victim, every fallen angel, everyone who falls at the hands of brutality leaves behind an entire community. It is not just that child, that husband, that wife, that son, that daughter — it is an entire community. Extended families, friends," Biden said.
Turning back to a central issue on the US-Israel agenda — the prospects for a two-state solution allowing Israel and a future state of Palestine to co-exist as neighbors — Biden invoked an old Irish expression: "Too long a suffering makes a stone of the heart."
Biden implored Israelis not to be unwilling to reach out and to compromise due to fear of terrorism.
"The reason why we have to deal with this plague of terrorism is it will have the tendency to harden hearts — not to be willing to reach out, not to be willing to reach compromise," he said.
"Israelis and visitors to Israel cannot go on being afraid to go about their lives for fear of being attacked. The violence has to stop, period."
Turning to Rivlin, Biden said the Israeli president knows violence cannot be halted "just by physical force."
He reiterated America's longstanding, "absolutely unshakable" commitment to Israel as a secure and independent "Jewish state," and said he would be discussing with Rivlin "ideas that will help reduce extremism and achieve greater economic opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians alike."
Biden concluded by saying, "Ultimately, a peace that leads to a state where there are two peoples is still the surest path to a prosperous future for all the people here — a two-state solution."