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The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.
Why it matters: The Israeli government instructed the IDF to undertake the preparations not because of any intelligence or assessment that Trump will order such a strike, but because senior Israeli officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” ahead of Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that President-elect Biden's administration “must not go back to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran."
Why it matters: The comments — at the annual memorial ceremony for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister — signal that Netanyahu is planning to repeat the public campaign against an Iran deal that he engaged in during the Obama administration.
The Trump administration is working quickly to shift U.S. policies and, where possible, bind the incoming Biden administration to them.
Why it matters: All of these steps are being taken without any coordination with Biden's team, which still lacks access to the intelligence and resources typically made available during a transition. In many cases, the Trump administration is trying to proactively thwart Biden's agenda.
After visiting a winery in the Jewish settlement of Psagot in the West Bank, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new policy on Thursday of allowing products from the settlements to be labeled as “made in Israel."
Why it matters: The policy announced by Pompeo is more radical than the Israeli government's policy regarding the settlements. It signals U.S. recognition of de facto Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank and seems to be a violation of the spirit of the “Abraham Accords” and the recent UAE-Israel peace treaty, under which Israel agreed to suspend its annexation plans.
Israel is drafting a strategy for engaging with the incoming Biden administration on Iran, two Israeli officials tell me.
What they're saying: “We don’t want to be left out again," Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset foreign relations committee in a classified hearing last week. He said Israel had to avoid the mistakes that left it isolated as the Obama administration negotiated the 2015 Iran deal.
A group of Republican senators led by Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sent a letter to President Trump this week urging him to issue an executive order allowing goods produced in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel." Axios obtained a copy of the letter.
Why it matters: While the rest of the world views the settlements as illegal under international law and not part of Israel, the Trump administration has taken several steps intended to legitimize them and blur the differentiation between Israel and the West Bank.
The Israeli Air Force conducted air strikes Tuesday night on Syrian army and Iranian Quds Force targets near Damascus — hours after several improvised explosive devices were discovered on the Israeli side of the border in the Golan Heights.
Why it matters: Tuesday marked the second time in three months that explosive devices were discovered on the Israeli side of the border. Israel claims Iran's Quds Force is using pro-Iranian militias and local Syrian operatives to open a front with Israel in the Golan and engage in attacks on Israeli forces.
President-elect Biden spoke on the phone today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as part of series of congratulatory phone calls with leaders around the world.
The big picture: The order in which these calls are returned by an incoming president is closely watched. Biden called Netanyahu and Rivlin after speaking with the leaders of nine other U.S. allies over the past few days.