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Blinken speaks to Lapid for second time in four days

Administration continues intense engagement with new Israeli government; talks focus on need to improve relations with Palestinians, Israel’s security and Iran

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as he and U.S. President Joe Biden meet Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Denis Balibouse/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as he and U.S. President Joe Biden meet Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Denis Balibouse/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Thursday with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as the US continued its intense engagement with the new Israeli government.

Blinken and Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, discussed “the opportunities and ongoing challenges for Israel and the region,” according to the State Department.

“The Secretary discussed the US commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of the US- Israel bilateral relationship, and the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways,” the statement said.

According to a statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, “the two talked at length about a wide range of strategic issues including the security and political situation in the region.”

Both statements said the two also discussed Iran and ways to further Israel’s normalization with Arab states.

Blinken and Lapid agreed to a policy of “no surprises,” according to the Israeli statement, and will maintain open and regular communication channels, as well as plans to meet soon.

The call was the second between the two top diplomats in four days.

Then US government has moved to swiftly embrace and engage with the new government that took office on Sunday.

From right to left: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the first cabinet meeting of the new government, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US President Joe Biden was the first world leader to congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Sunday night on being sworn in as the head of a new government coalition, issuing a statement and immediately following it up with a phone call.

Blinken also called Lapid to congratulate him and invite him to visit Washington. The calls came after Benjamin Netanyahu used his final speech as prime minister to air his grievances with Washington.

While the new government has indicated it will take a tough stance on the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, there were also indications of a more pragmatic approach to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

On Thursday it was reported that Israel intends to transfer some 1.2 million coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinians, following months of criticism over Israel’s failure to help.

Since taking office earlier this week, the newly inaugurated Israeli government has clarified that it too opposes Biden’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, but that, unlike its predecessor, it would voice its criticism in private.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi will be the first senior Israeli official to visit Washington since the change of leadership.

Kohavi will lead a senior delegation of top Israeli military officers early Sunday to meet with American officials about Iran’s nuclear program and its expansionist efforts in the region, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi (C) at the scene of shooting attack in Tapuah Junction, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 3, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“The chief of staff will discuss with his counterparts current shared security challenges, including matters dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in the Middle East, Hezbollah’s rearmament efforts, the consequences of the threat of precision-guided missiles and joint force build-up,” the military said.

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

Shortly after Biden’s inauguration in January, Kohavi made waves with a particularly blunt speech arguing against the US rejoining the deal, calling it a “bad” plan.

Kohavi was initially scheduled to travel to Washington in late April, but his trip was called off in light of rising tensions at the time between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, which culminated in a vicious 11-day battle last month.

During the visit, the IDF commander will also share with American official’s the military’s assessments of its conflict with the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip last month, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls — and particularly how some of its new battle strategies fared in real-world combat, the IDF said.

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