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Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he rejected requests from the Biden administration to inform the U.S. in advance of Israeli operations against Iran’s nuclear program, and falsely claimed Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid made such a commitment to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week.

Why it matters: Since realizing he would be ousted as prime minister, Netanyahu has been planning a months-long campaign against the Biden administration and the new Bennett government over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu wants to be the face of Israel's opposition to the deal at home and in Washington — and he is forcing the issue.

Driving the news: Lapid spoke with Blinken last Thursday for the second time since assuming office. He released a short statement after the call stressing that he agreed with the Secretary of State on a “no surprises” policy, without mentioning Iran specifically.

  • On Monday, Netanyahu’s office told reporters he was going to deliver an important foreign policy statement. When the reporters arrived at the Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, they discovered Netanyahu was planning to attack Lapid politically.

What they're saying: Netanyahu falsely claimed Lapid committed to a "no surprises" policy on Iran and said the State Department issued a statement about it — a claim that was also false.

  • Netanyahu said Lapid's purported commitment harms Israel’s national security, claiming the foreign minister has given up on Israel’s freedom of operations against the Iranian nuclear program and on its sovereign right to self-defense.
  • Netanyahu claimed he rejected such a request for “no surprises” from President Biden during one of their phone calls, as well as a similar request by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during his last visit to Israel.
  • “I told them I will take their request into consideration, but stressed that on matters that are existential I will maintain Israel's freedom of operation without any obligation for prior notice," Netanyahu said.
  • He said Lapid’s agreement with Blinken sends a signal of weakness to Iran and to a Biden administration “that is rushing back to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran."
  • Lapid replied in a short statement calling Netanyahu’s remarks false: "I thank the leader of the opposition for his advice. We will take it from here."

Between the lines: Despite his attacks on Lapid for the “no surprises” agreement with Blinken, a similar understanding existed when Netanyahu was prime minister just over a week ago.

  • In March, Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on the record that he agreed with Blinken on a mutual “no surprises” policy regarding the nuclear talks with Iran. Netanyahu, who was then prime minister, didn’t push back at the time.
  • Several weeks later, the Biden administration even complained to Israeli officials that the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, which the Iranian government blamed on the Israeli Mossad, was a violation of the "no surprises" understanding between the two countries.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - 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. 

Sep 22, 2021 - 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.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Laurene Powell Jobs' $3.5 billion climate campaign

Laurene Powell Jobs, president of Emerson Collective, is investing $3.5 billion in her new climate-action group, the Waverley Street Foundation — all to be spent in 10 years, as a way to show urgency on the issue.

  • Then the group will sunset.

The big picture: The foundation "will focus on initiatives and ideas that will aid underserved communities who are most impacted by climate change," an official tells Axios.

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