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Bashing Bennett, Netanyahu says Biden will thwart Israeli attack on Iran

Opposition leader says ‘no surprises policy,’ which he also pursued, will lead to US administration leaking info to media outlets in efforts to circumvent Jewish state

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu again lashed out Monday at the new government for promising a “no surprises policy” with the US, saying that the Biden administration would use Israel’s goodwill to foil an attack against Iran.

“The information that is sent to America could be leaked to major media outlets and in this way our operations will be thwarted,” he said during a heated Knesset session. “That is why for the last decade I have refused the requests of American presidents to always inform them of our actions.”

Netanyahu claimed “this is an existential issue for Israel, in which there may be surprises and sometimes surprises are needed.”

He went on to charge that the new government had “turned us into some sort of protectorate with a duty to report. If we have no independence on this matter, we have no independence at all.”

Last month, Netanyahu accused Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of endangering Israel by pledging to update the US in advance on any military actions Israel could take against Iran.

During the previous government, however, senior Israeli officials agreed in talks with the US on the Iran nuclear file that there would be “no surprises” on the matter and that disagreements would be addressed behind closed doors, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Times of Israel at the time.

In fact, despite Netanyahu claiming that the policy means Israel cannot act against Iran without informing the US first, it has in the past been largely seen as a shield for Israel, making sure Jerusalem is apprised of any overtures the US might make toward the Islamic Republic.

US President Donald Trump (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to Trump’s departure to Rome at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon / GPO via Flash90)

In March, when Netanyahu was still premier, then-foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said that Israel and the Joe Biden administration had agreed to a “no surprises” policy.

“We believe, profoundly and passionately, in making sure that we and Israel have a policy of no surprises, that we are communicating with one another on a going forward basis, so that we have a better understanding … on what the other side intends to do with respect to a whole range of security issues in the region,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News in April, when Netanyahu was still prime minister.

Former ambassador Michael Oren’s “principle of no daylight, no surprises amounts to a virtual Netanyahu veto over anything the US government might contemplate doing to, or about, Israel,” Bernard Avishai wrote in the New Yorker in 2015.

In 2014, Haaretz reported: “A senior Israeli official has said that Israel and the United States have an understanding which calls for a policy of ‘no surprises’ in the framework of current negotiations between Iran and the six powers, being held in an attempt to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. As part of this understanding, the US briefed Israel in advance of its plan to hold direct bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva this week.”

However, in 2011, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote for Bloomberg that Netanyahu had apparently refused to commit to informing the US ahead of time if it plans on attacking Iran, noting, “‘No surprises’ has been the rule governing US-Israel relations for some time, and this is where the personality clash between the two leaders has real salience.”

Netanyahu’s comments on Monday came after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lashed out at his predecessor for “leaving a trail of chaos” behind him, including regarding the Iranian issue.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The inheritance left to us was an Iran at the most advanced stage of its nuclear project, but we’ll deal with it because we know what to do,” Bennett said during his planum address, which also slammed Netanyahu for having failed to pass a budget for nearly three years.

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the JCPOA deal, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

Washington on Sunday openly blamed Iran for a drone attack last week on an oil tanker with tenuous ties to Israel that left two dead.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US was “confident” Iran was behind the drone attack near Oman, a day after he spoke with Lapid to discuss a potential international response to the incident.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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