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Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at a ceremony for the new director of Israel's Mossad spy agency that Israel must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon even at the cost of tensions with the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The U.S. is holding indirect talks with Iran on a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Netanyahu, who may be in his final days as prime minister, is a fierce critic of the deal and contends a U.S. return would take the pressure off the Iranian regime.

Between the lines: Netanyahu has amped up his rhetoric on Iran in recent days, since a ceasefire was reached with Hamas and his rivals moved toward an alternative government that could oust him within a week.

What he's saying: “An Iranian nuclear bomb is a threat for the continuation of the Zionist project and we must fight it relentlessly. If we have to choose between friction with our great friend the U.S. and the elimination of this existential threat, the elimination of the threat will come first," Netanyahu said.

  • He stressed that he told President Biden Israel would continue its efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining the bomb with or without a nuclear deal. “Containment is not an option," Netanyahu said.

The other side: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attacked Netanyahu for his remarks and claimed he was damaging Israel’s relations with the Biden administration.

  • “The Biden administration is a true friend of Israel and Israel will have no better partner than the U.S. and if there are differences they will be solved in direct talks in closed rooms and not through defiant rhetoric that could harm Israel’s security," Gantz said.

What’s next: Gantz is planning to visit Washington later this week and will meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday, Israeli officials say.

  • The talks are expected to focus on emergency U.S. military aid to replenish Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system and supply the Israeli Air Force with new munitions.
  • Several Democratic senators and members of Congress have raised concerns about additional arms sales to Israel after the fighting in Gaza.

Go deeper

Sep 8, 2021 - World

Biden reiterates plan to reopen Jerusalem consulate despite Israeli objections

Bennett with Biden in the Oval Office. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/Pool/Getty

President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their White House meeting that he will not abandon his plan to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, setting up a major point of contention between the administrations.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by Donald Trump. Senior officials in Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Sep 7, 2021 - World

UN watchdog: Iran continues to exceed cap on uranium stockpile

President Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

A UN atomic watchdog said Tuesday that Iran continues to bolster its stockpile of highly enriched uranium despite exceeding the cap set under a 2015 accord meant to restrict the government's nuclear arsenal, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The U.S. pulled out of the deal in 2018 under then-President Trump. The Iranian government has countered by violating the limits placed on its nuclear program.

Sep 8, 2021 - World

Despite Biden statement, Israel is a long way from U.S. visa waiver

Passport control at Dulles Airport. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty

Bennett left Washington with a notable "deliverable": Biden had promised to work toward bringing Israel into the U.S. visa waiver program.

Why it matters: Admission to the program has been an Israeli aspiration for decades. The issue resonates with many Israelis who may have family, friends or business connections in the U.S. but are intimidated by the visa process or put off by the costs.