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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.

Go deeper

Jun 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: After U.S. pressure, Israel joins statement criticizing China

The Israeli and Chinese flags displayed during a visit to Beijing by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty

Israel supported a statement criticizing China at the UN Human Rights Council after being pressured to do so by the Biden administration, U.S. and Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is a significant policy change from Israel's newly inaugurated government. Under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel refrained from voicing any criticism about human rights violations in China — pushing for closer ties with Beijing and resisting pressure from the Trump administration to limit Chinese investments in Israel.

May 15, 2021 - World

Israeli airstrike levels high-rise building that housed media offices in Gaza

Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike in Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 15. Photo: SAID KHATIB / Getty Images

An Israeli airstrike on Saturday flattened a high-rise building housing media offices for Al Jazeera, the AP and others in the Gaza Strip.

Driving the news: The attack came nearly an hour after the Israeli military warned the building's owner that it was going to bombed and asked for it to be evacuated.

Jun 23, 2021 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel huddle on drone threat from Iran

iranian Army drones on display in January. Photo: Iranian Army via Getty

The Biden administration and the Israeli government held talks recently on countering the proliferation of Iranian drones and cruise missiles among its proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: After several drone attacks from pro-Iranian militias in recent weeks, some of which were thwarted, the U.S. and Israel are highly concerned that the technology will spread to additional groups who could target their forces in the region.