ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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Career diplomat Stephanie Hallett now interim US embassy chief as Nides departs

‘She’s as good as it gets,’ says ambassador who leaves deputy in charge in Jerusalem at a time of heightened tension between the Netanyahu and Biden governments

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, left, and Deputy Ambassador Stephanie Hallett in a photograph posted on July 21, 2023. (US Embassy in Israel)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, left, and Deputy Ambassador Stephanie Hallett in a photograph posted on July 21, 2023. (US Embassy in Israel)

Career diplomat Stephanie Hallett took over as interim head of the US Embassy in Israel on Friday after Tom Nides formally stepped down as ambassador after 20 months on the job.

Hallett takes over the US mission during a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government is set to pass the first piece of legislation from its radical judicial overhaul plan next week without the widespread support he assured the Biden administration that he would seek.

Israel has also advanced more settlement construction in the first six months of the new government than it has in any entire calendar year and has established several new outposts deep in the West Bank, infuriating the US, which is seeking to keep prospects for a two-state solution alive.

In her first tweet as embassy chief on Friday she thanked Nides for his “commitment to ensuring that the ties between the US and Israel remained ironclad.”

“I look forward to continuing the work of reinforcing the unshakable bond between the US and Israel as the US Embassy in Israel’s chargé d’affaires,” she said.

Nides told The Times of Israel that Hallett “is as good as it gets. A brilliant, experienced senior foreign service officer. I am leaving the embassy in great hands.”

Hallett will likely stay on as chargé d’affaires until at least the end of the year as US President Joe Biden has yet to nominate a full-time successor.

Hallett is a longtime foreign service officer who has been serving as Nides’s deputy since August 2022 after serving as acting senior director for the Middle East and North Africa and director of Gulf Affairs at the White House National Security Council for the first 18 months of the Biden administration.

She previously served as deputy ambassador at the US embassies in Cyprus and Oman in addition to stints at US embassies in Bahrain and Cairo, at US consulates in Monterrey, Mexico and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and at the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs.

She is a graduate of George Washington University and the University of Cambridge.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to hint earlier this week that the Biden administration does plans to nominate a new envoy to Israel before the 2024 presidential election after little progress was reported in tapping a candidate.

Blinken called out Senate Republicans for blocking the confirmation of Biden’s nominees during a press conference and said that “by the end of the summer, we expect Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon will all be without confirmed US ambassadors.”

Highlighting the vacancy in Israel in this context would be difficult to explain if the administration is not planning on filling the spot.

Blinken was asked specifically whether Biden planned to nominate someone for Israel, but the secretary said he didn’t have anything to announce yet.

Former US congressman and current head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace Robert Wexler is on the White House’s list of potential candidates, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel last month.

Last week, a group of 14 Republican senators threatened to block Biden’s nominations over what it characterized as the administration’s “antisemitic” decision to cease funding scientific research at Israeli institutions beyond the Green Line — a longstanding policy that was only annulled by the previous administration.

A Republican decision to act on the threat would spell bad news for Biden because while Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate, Republicans can delay confirmation hearings and votes for months at a time if the sides refuse to cooperate with one another.

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