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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.

Driving the news: Haliva, who was appointed as the head of military intelligence in October, told the Cabinet that a deal in Vienna would serve Israel’s interests by providing increased certainty about the limitations on Iran's nuclear program, and it would buy more time for Israel to prepare for escalation scenarios.

  • Haliva was reacting to a briefing by Mossad director David Barnea on the spy agency's annual intelligence assessment.
  • Barnea raised reservations about whether a deal would serve Israel’s interests and said there was still time to influence the U.S. position in Vienna, according to the two ministers who attended the meeting.
  • "It is not a lost cause, and it is worth putting the time and the effort in a dialogue with the Americans," Barnea told the ministers.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials say the general assessment in Jerusalem had until recently been that Iran was only playing for time in Vienna, but now a deal is looking more likely.

  • "It will be a big surprise if some kind of deal doesn’t emerge from Vienna," a senior Israeli official told me.

What to watch: The two ministers who attended the Cabinet meeting say the consensus was that even if a deal is reached in Vienna, Israel should refrain from publicly criticizing the Biden administration over it.

  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned in the meeting that such public attacks could seriously damage the relationship with the administration.

What’s next: In a briefing with reporters on Monday, Lapid said Israel would continue to engage with the Biden administration and other world powers to influence the parameters of a possible nuclear deal. "We are now in a trench war to improve the deal," Lapid said.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

Possible Netanyahu plea deal could force him out of politics

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amit Shabi/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has for several weeks been negotiating a plea agreement with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to Israeli media reports.

Why it matters: One key sticking point is whether the deal, which would require Netanyahu to plead guilty to corruption charges, would also require the former prime minister to step away from politics. Any deal would create a political firestorm in Israeli and could bring down the current government.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.