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Bennett and Biden. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett presented President Biden in their meeting today with what Israeli officials described as “a death by a thousand cuts” strategy against Iran.

Why it matters: Besides striking up a personal relationship, Bennett's primary goal in his first meeting with Biden was to express his sense of urgency about the significant progress Iran was making in its nuclear program, and Israel's new government conducted an Iran policy review prior to the visit.

Behind the scenes: The strategy Bennett presented to Biden involves countering Iran through a combination of many small actions across several fronts — both military and diplomatic — instead of a single dramatic strike, the Israeli officials said.

  • Bennett compared the standoff between Israel and Iran today to the one between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. "The prime minister said Israel is the region’s America and Iran is the Soviet Union with its corrupt and decaying regime," the official said.
  • Bennett told Biden the U.S. and Israel need to put Iran’s regional aggression “back in the box,” in addition to its nuclear program. To that end, he asked Biden not to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and Syria. The Israeli delegation felt "optimistic" about Biden's attitude on that front.
  • Bennett also told Biden that he opposes a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and that the effectiveness of the deal had faded because of its looming sunset clauses and Iran's nuclear advances. Biden did not seem optimistic about the prospect of Iran returning to compliance with the deal, the officials said.

Between the lines: Bennett was very happy with two things Biden said in his statements to the press during their meeting.

  • First, Biden expanded on his previous statements that Iran wouldn't get a nuclear weapon on his watch and said he was committed to Iran never obtaining a nuclear weapon.
  • Second, Biden said that if diplomacy with Iran fails, he is ready to explore other options — echoing Bennett's calls for a "Plan B."

What he's saying: Bennett told the Israeli traveling press that his meeting with Biden was “excellent” and that he felt like they had known each other for a long time.

  • “I found a leader who loves Israel, knows exactly what he wants and is attuned to our needs," Bennett said.
  • Bennett expressed optimism on the prospect of cooperation on Iran, adding, "We don’t have much time. The Iranian issue is urgent and can’t be postponed."

What’s next: Bennett invited Biden to visit Israel once COVID-19 is under control. Teams from both sides will continue the discussions on Iran and other issues in the coming weeks.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - World

Iran officials ready to restart nuclear talks with world powers

Ebrahim Raisi addresses the participants via video conference at the 76th session of United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 21. Photo: Iranian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iranian officials said Tuesday they expect nuclear talks with world powers to resume in the "next few weeks," but they signaled they would take a tougher stance against the U.S, per the state-run IRNA news agency.

Why it matters: The talks to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have been stalled since June, when hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi was elected to office.

23 hours ago - World

Scoop: Russia seeks trilateral talks with U.S. and Israel on Syria

Secretaries Blinken (left) and Lavrov. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry\TASS via Getty

Russia has asked Israel to encourage the U.S. to agree to hold high-level trilateral talks on Syria, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israel's main focus in Syria is getting Iran out, and that would likely only be possible through U.S.-Russian cooperation. 

23 hours ago - World

Scoop: Jake Sullivan plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE next week

Sullivan. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is planning to travel to the Middle East next week, including a stop in Saudi Arabia. He would be the most senior Biden administration official to visit the kingdom.

Why it matters: Sullivan's first trip to the region since taking office is expected to include stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, sources briefed on the plans tell Axios. All three countries are longtime U.S. partners who have faced some early tensions with Biden.