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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

The incoming Biden administration and the Israeli government are on a collision course over the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Why it matters: There is a growing gap between Biden’s stated intention to re-enter the deal and Israel’s expectations and public demands against it.

Split screen:

  • Biden’s soon-to-be national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, reiterated at a WSJ conference on Monday that the new administration will first attempt to put Iran “back into the box” of the nuclear deal and only then move toward a “follow-on negotiation” to include Iran’s missile program and its regional behavior.
  • That same day, Israel's ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said on MSNBC that what “keeps him up at night” is the thought that the U.S. would return to the deal.

Netanyahu has personally started campaigning against any return to the deal, which he vocally opposed in the first place and then encouraged President Trump to abandon.

  • That could lead to a "Groundhog Day" scenario, in which U.S.-Israel relations under Biden become a repeat of the Obama era.
  • That follows four years in which Netanyahu's government and the Trump administration were totally aligned on Iran, including over Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign.

What they're saying:

  • At a conference on Iran on Monday, one of Israel’s most senior defense officials said Israel expects Biden to keep all of Trump's sanctions in place, despite Biden's statements to the contrary.
  • "Don’t give up the sanctions five minutes before you start the negotiations," insisted Zohar Palti, who oversees the political-security division at the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
  • Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Palti said Trump had done an "outstanding job with sanctions." Biden, he said, had to take office showing a willingness to be tough on Iran, rather than an unreasonable expectation that Iran would compromise.

The other side: Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who is likely to get a senior Middle East job in Biden's administration, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Israel would have a chance to make its case in early, high-level consultations with the Biden administration.

  • But Shapiro also wrote that Israel "will have no ability to dictate U.S. policy."
  • Instead of getting into a clash with Biden over a U.S. return to the deal, Shapiro wrote, the Israeli government should focus on developing a common strategy with the new administration over the next step: what a follow-on deal should look like. 

What’s next: In the coming days, an Iranian law will come into force setting a 60-day deadline for the U.S. to lift sanctions. If the U.S. doesn't do so, the law states, Iran will raise uranium enrichment levels to 20% and limit UN inspectors' access to its nuclear sites.

The bottom line: Swift diplomacy and decision-making over the nuclear deal will be required once Biden takes office in January. He can expect opposition from Israel.

Go deeper

11 hours ago - World

World leaders react to "new dawn in America" under Biden administration

President Biden reacts delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

World leaders have pledged to work with President Biden on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with many praising his move to begin the formal process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: Several leaders noted the swift shift from former President Trump's "America First" policy to Biden's action to re-engage with the world and rebuild alliances.

Jan 20, 2021 - World

Netanyahu attempts Hail Mary on settlements before Biden inauguration

Netanyahu will be disappointed to see Trump wave goodbye. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to execute a “Hail Mary” decision to legalize dozens of illegal settler outposts deep in the West Bank one day before Biden’s inauguration. He failed.

Why it matters: The mass legalization of outposts would have been a highly provocative step, broadening Israeli control over land in the West Bank and further reducing the chances of a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

GOP research firm aims to hobble Biden nominees

Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Joshua Roberts/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican-aligned opposition research group America Rising is doing all it can to prevent President Biden from seating his top Cabinet picks.

Why it matters: After former President Trump inhibited the transition, Biden is hoping the Republican minority in Congress will cooperate with getting his team in place. Biden hadn't even been sworn in when America Rising began blasting opposition research to reporters targeting Janet Yellen and Alejandro Mayorkas.