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National security adviser says Israel not afraid to differ with US on Iran

After Biden meeting, Hulata says ‘Israel will act as it sees fit,’ and has done ‘quite a lot in Iran over past year’; on potential peace with Saudi Arabia: Israel’s ‘working on it’

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata speaks during the IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama on November 21, 2021. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)
National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata speaks during the IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama on November 21, 2021. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

In a rare interview, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata said Thursday that Israel was not hesitating to air differences of opinion with the United States regarding how to counter the Iranian threat.

“We aren’t afraid to tell the Americans that we think differently, or to even act in Iran,” he said in an interview with Channel 13 news after meeting with Biden.

In a rare public admission of Israel’s activities against Iran, Hulata said Israel had “acted quite a lot in Iran over the past year.”

“Israel will act as it sees fit. We’ve acted quite a lot in Iran over the past year, and the US is backing us. We are acting with logic and responsibility, and everyone can see this isn’t harming the relationship between the US president and Israel — on the contrary,” he told Channel 13.

“President Biden has said the whole time that he prefers a diplomatic solution, but that in the absence of other solutions, he will use military force against Iran. I’ve heard the US president say this, and one of his famous sayings is that ‘[big] powers don’t bluff’ — so this should be taken seriously,” he said.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent months, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran, a number of other mysterious deaths of security personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violation of nuclear agreements.

US President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One to depart Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 15, 2022. (Ariel Schalit / POOL / AFP)

Regarding Biden’s final leg of his Middle East trip to Saudi Arabia, Hulata said Israel “has been working for months on strengthening Israel’s relations with countries in the region, and Saudi Arabia is no doubt the most important in the region with which Israel can have a peaceful relation, and we are working on it.”

However, he cautioned that patience was needed and said the results of the efforts would have to be judged in several months’ time.

Riyadh announced on Friday morning that it would begin allowing Israeli planes to use its airspace, as part of an agreement brokered by Washington that is slated to be formally announced later in the weekend.

Biden will announce in Saudi Arabia that Egypt will transfer control of a pair of Red Sea islands to Riyadh, a Middle East diplomat told The Times of Israel on Thursday. Tiran and Sanafir were previously held by Israel, which agreed to transfer them to Egypt as part of their 1979 peace treaty while allowing a multinational observer force to remain and ensuring Jerusalem’s freedom of transport around the islands.

Accordingly, Israel’s sign-off was needed for the Egyptian-to-Saudi island transfer to go through, and the Biden administration leveraged the green light needed to push Riyadh to take steps toward normalization with the Jewish state.

Riyadh has held off on formally establishing ties with Israel, saying it won’t do so without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A man stands under American and Saudi Arabian flags prior to a visit by US President Joe Biden, at a square in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, July 14, 2022. (AP/Amr Nabil)

In his Thursday interview, Hulata was asked about the recent decision by the Hamas terror organization to release a video showing Hisham al-Sayed, one of two Israeli civilians being held captive in Gaza.

“Something has definitely shifted. Hamas chooses, out of its considerations, to release a video in which one of the civilians is seen alive, and we get a sign of life. I view this as a signal by Hamas, and my responsibility on that front is to get the most out of this,” he said.

The terror group currently holds two living Israelis — al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu — along with the bodies of two Israeli soldiers: Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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