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Milley in a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty

Israel used the recent visit by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to pass on several messages to the incoming Biden administration regarding Iran and other regional developments, senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israel is very concerned about President-elect Biden's plans on Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, but has yet to open direct contacts with the incoming administration. Milley is a potential bridge to Biden's White House because he is expected to stay on beyond the transition.

What they're saying: “We wanted to make our case to the new administration on Iran through someone who is still going to be in the room when Biden assumes office and is going to play a substantive role in any policy review that will take place," an Israeli official said.

Driving the news: Milley arrived in Israel last Thursday after visiting several Arab capitals. It was his third visit to the region this year, and came amid fears of Iranian retaliation over the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

  • Milley met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

Behind the scenes: The main message to Milley from the Israelis was that Biden shouldn't rush back into the 2015 deal but should instead take advantage of the fact that Iran is in a weak position, Israeli officials who attended the talks say.

  • If Biden doesn't use the leverage the U.S. has accumulated through its "maximum pressure" sanctions regime, the Israelis argued, he'll find it impossible to make a better deal later.
  • “We stressed that the starting point of any talks with Iran is much better for the U.S. today than it was in 2013. What is needed now is to be tough in order to get a better deal," an Israeli official said.

State of play: Biden says he will return to the 2015 deal if Iran returns to compliance and attempt to use it as a platform to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal. That would require the U.S. to lift sanctions and Iran to unwind its recent nuclear activities.

Milley made clear that he still hasn’t had a chance to speak with members of the incoming administration, but said Biden's national security team has a pro-engagement approach to Iran, according to an Israeli official.

  • Milley even referenced John Kerry and Susan Rice among those who could influence the administration's thinking on Iran, an Israeli official said, despite the fact that their roles (Kerry as climate czar, Rice running the Domestic Policy Council) have nothing to do with Iran.

The Israelis also told Milley that the incoming administration should be more flexible when it comes to relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite concerns over their records on human rights, the officials said.

  • “We think it is important the next administration will keep the momentum of the normalization process, and we think that at the current point in time what needs to lead U.S. policy is this historic regional opportunity. So we hope the new administration will look at the complexities and not burn the bridges with those countries," an Israeli official told me.

What’s next: The major policy gaps between the Israeli government and the incoming U.S. administration will likely lead to tensions. Those tensions could increase ahead of Israel's elections, expected in March, if Netanyahu makes his objections to Biden's policies a part of his campaign.

Go deeper

18 hours ago - World

Iran lays out "road map" for nuclear talks with Biden

Khamenei earlier this month. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Iran has been accumulating bargaining chips and laying out its strategy for engagement with Joe Biden, who arrives in office promising to return the U.S. to the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance.

Why it matters: Recent statements from Iran's leaders indicate that they're willing to strike such a deal. But the sides differ over who will have to make the first move, and when.

21 hours ago - 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.

Big Tech's post-riot reckoning

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The Capitol insurrection means the anti-tech talk in Washington is more likely to lead to action, since it's ever clearer that the attack was planned, at least in part, on social media.

Why it matters: The big platforms may have hoped they'd move to D.C.'s back burner, with the Hill focused on the Biden agenda and the pandemic out of control. But now, there'll be no escaping harsh scrutiny.