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Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the possibility of Indonesia normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in meetings with officials in Jakarta last week, Israeli officials say. The Israeli officials stressed that no such step is imminent.

Why it matters: Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world and a major market for Israeli companies, but it has no official diplomatic relations with Israel.

  • The Biden administration is trying to build on the Trump-era Abraham Accords, and in this case, looking beyond the Middle East to the largest of the countries that don't recognize Israel.
  • “We are always exploring additional opportunities for normalization, but we’ll leave those discussions behind closed doors until the right moment," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told Axios. A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Flashback: Indonesia was one of the countries the Trump administration tried to bring into the Abraham Accords, but the negotiations hadn't matured by the time Trump’s term ended.

  • At that time, the Indonesians requested an upgraded trade deal with the U.S. in return for taking steps toward normalization, like opening direct flights and issuing visas to Israelis, according to former Trump administration officials.
  • The big picture: Despite the lack of diplomatic recognition, senior Indonesian and Israeli officials have met quietly several times in the past two decades, mainly on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Behind the scenes: U.S. and Israeli officials have been discussing ways to expand the Abraham Accords in recent months, and Indonesia has come up in that context, according to the Israeli officials.

  • A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration was working “quietly but quite assiduously” to expand the accords, though it may take time.
  • The Indonesian embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Worth noting: Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata met Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto at a conference in Bahrain last November. They sat together during the opening dinner of the conference and later exchanged business cards.

  • After Prabowo was photographed at the conference speaking to an Israeli diplomat, he issued a statement saying that speaking to Israeli officials is not prohibited when it serves the national interest.

Go deeper

Jan 5, 2022 - World

U.S. sees "snapback" sanctions threat as tool to deter Iran enrichment

Jake Sullivan (R) with Tony Blinken. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Pool via Getty

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Israeli officials during his recent visit to Jerusalem that the threat of “snapback” UN Security Council sanctions should be used as a means to deter Iran from enriching weapons-grade uranium, three Israeli officials with direct knowledge of the issue told me.

Why it matters: Snapback was the most significant mechanism built into the 2015 deal to punish Iran if it violates the agreement. According to the deal, any party to the agreement can trigger the sanctions.

Jan 5, 2022 - World

Palestinians press Biden to take more active role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Abbas (right) meets Sullivan. Photo: Palestinian Presidency handout via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned national security advisor Jake Sullivan in their recent meeting that more active U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is needed to avoid a new crisis in the region, Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh tells Axios.

Why it matters: After a diplomatic deep freeze under the Trump administration, the Palestinian leadership hoped Biden would be much more active in rolling back Trump’s policies and taking steps to advance the two-state solution. So far, they've been disappointed.

Jan 5, 2022 - World

Scoop: Israel's military intel chief says Iran deal better than no deal

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center) hosts a Cabinet meeting. Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Pool via Getty Images

The head of Israeli military intelligence told ministers during a Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday that Israel will be better off if the Iran nuclear talks lead to a deal rather than collapsing without one, two Cabinet ministers who attended the meeting tell me.

Why it matters: While Israel campaigned vigorously against the 2015 nuclear deal, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett continues to take hawkish positions on diplomacy with Iran, the statements from Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva reflect a broader shift in the thinking of the Israeli defense establishment.