Jun 24, 2021 - World

In shift from Netanyahu, Israel tries diplomacy with U.S. on Iran deal

Bennett (R) and Lapid. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/POOL/AFP via Getty

Israel has been trying to influence the Biden administration's approach to the Iran nuclear deal in a series of high-level meetings with U.S. officials, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel didn't engage with the Biden administration over the deal except to vehemently oppose it and stress that Israel wouldn't be constrained by it. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his new government also oppose the deal, but are trying to engage with the U.S. on the issue.

“Bennett and Lapid don’t agree with the Biden administration on the nuclear deal. But unlike Netanyahu, who just rejected it out of hand and refused to engage, the new government wants to try and influence the result and argue in private with the Biden administration about the details."
— Senior Israeli official, to Axios.

Flashback: Netanyahu ordered all Israeli officials to decline to discuss the details of the deal and the negotiations around it with their U.S. counterparts.

  • Many Israeli officials have argued that policy and Netanyahu's public criticism of the Obama and Biden administrations over the deal only isolated Israel and left it with no influence on the negotiations.

State of play: The new Israeli approach comes at a critical time. After six rounds of indirect talks with Iran, the Biden administration hopes a return to the deal is just weeks away.

Driving the news: The Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Aviv Kohavi, met Wednesday at the White House with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Both sides said the meeting centered on Iran, and an IDF spokesman said Kohavi focused on the flaws of the deal and what could be done to mitigate them.

  • Kohavi also raised ways to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and respond to Iran’s regional activity with Sullivan and in meetings with CIA director Bill Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

What's next: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to hold his first meeting with Secretary of State Tony Blinken in Rome on Sunday.

  • Israeli officials say Lapid is expected to stress Israel's reservations about a U.S. return to the deal and to highlight several conditions Israel thinks the U.S. must demand from Iran as part of a return to the deal.
  • On Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will meet President Biden at the White House. Rivlin met on Wednesday with Bennett and Lapid to coordinate the message to the U.S. on Iran.

Worth noting: Bennett is every bit as hawkish as Netanyahu on Iran, but Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that Bennett is not strong enough to stand up to Biden over the nuclear deal.

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