May 24, 2023 - World

Scoop: Israeli officials expected to visit White House for talks on Iran, Saudi Arabia

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan meets with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, in Jerusalem on Jan. 19.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan meets with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, in Jerusalem on Jan. 19.

Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are expected in Washington next week for talks at the White House as concerns grow over advances in Iran's nuclear program and as the U.S. seeks to push for an Israel-Saudi Arabia peace deal, four Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.

The big picture: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took power about five months ago, still hasn't received an invitation for a meeting with President Biden at the White House.

  • Biden said in late March that he wasn't going to invite Netanyahu in the near future and called on him to “walk away” from his plan to weaken Israel's Supreme Court and other democratic institutions.
  • Netanyahu and his advisers hope the suspension of the judicial overhaul and negotiations with the opposition about the proposed legislation could lead to an invitation from Biden, according to Israeli officials.
  • But U.S. officials say the White House still wants to see where these negotiations go before deciding whether to invite Netanyahu for a meeting with Biden.

Details: Dermer and Hanegbi are expected to arrive in Washington toward the end of next week and meet White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior officials at the White House and the State Department, the U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • The primary issues expected to be discussed are Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  • An official at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said the date of the meetings hasn’t been finalized yet. A White House National Security Council spokesperson said they have nothing to confirm.

State of play: Israeli officials in recent weeks have escalated their rhetoric around concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

  • IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Herzi Halevi on Tuesday said Iran’s uranium enrichment is more advanced than ever before. He added that Israel is also closely monitoring “other fields” critical for reaching nuclear capability, hinting at Iran’s possible weaponization efforts.
  • “There are possible negative developments on the horizon that could lead to action. We have capabilities and others have capabilities," Halevi said.
  • Hanegbi separately on Tuesday said Israel hopes the Iranian nuclear crisis can be solved by non-military means, but he stressed Israel is preparing "for a situation where a confrontation will be inevitable."

The other side: An Iranian official quoted by Al Jazeera said if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, it will be responsible for a wide-ranging war.

  • “We are not calling for a war but the world should know there will be no red lines in our response to Israel," the official said.

Behind the scenes: On Saudi Arabia, the Israeli government wants to work with the Biden administration on trying to reach a peace agreement with the kingdom, Israeli officials said. Dermer is Netanyahu’s point person for the issue.

  • The White House is hoping to make a diplomatic push for a Saudi-Israeli peace deal in the next six to seven months before the presidential election campaign consumes President Biden’s agenda, as Axios reported last week.
Go deeper