Netanyahu hoping to avoid immediate clash with Biden on Iran — report

Israeli officials reportedly say premier’s longstanding ties to new president and administration’s forthright approach to nuclear deal will likely smooth disputes

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)
Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to avoid an immediate dispute on Iran with US President Joe Biden, and is instead hoping to start a dialogue on the issue with the new US administration, according to a Wednesday report.

Three senior Israeli officials told Axios that Netanyahu wants to avoid confrontations with Biden, at least in the immediate future.

Biden has said he wants to return the US to the Iran nuclear deal brokered by former president Barack Obama while Biden was his vice president. Obama had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu, largely due to their opposing views on Iran, and the Biden administration is staffed by many former Obama officials, raising concerns that Israel and the new administration will have a similarly tense relationship.

One of the Israeli officials told Axios there was a difference between Biden and Obama, however. Obama started talks with Iran quietly, behind Israel’s back, while Biden’s administration has indicated from the start that it will consult with Israeli officials before making decisions on Iran, he noted.

Netanyahu also has a warm personal relationship with Biden that stretches back decades, which could help smooth disagreements, the official said.

Two other Israeli officials said Netanyahu is also hesitant to take the administration head-on because Biden’s Democratic party controls both the Senate and House of Representatives, unlike during his fight with Obama’s in 2015. Netanyahu believes Democratic control over Congress will make it more difficult for him to apply political pressure in the US, the report said.

Netanyahu famously delivered a speech to Congress against the Iran deal in 2015 in an address that was arranged with Republican lawmakers without Obama’s knowledge.

Then US President Barack Obama listens to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, foreground, as he speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, November 9, 2015. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The report said a date will be set in the coming days for starting Israeli talks with the Biden administration on Iran. Due to the administration’s strict coronavirus protocols, it’s unlikely any talks will be held in person, it said.

Tensions have heated up in the Middle East in recent months after Iran and the Trump administration exchanged a stream of threats as Donald Trump’s White House tenure drew to a close. Iran’s aggressive moves were believed to be partially geared toward increasing its leverage ahead of negotiations with Biden.

Iran also carried out fresh violations of the nuclear deal, sparking alarm in Israel and drawing rebukes from European officials who support the deal.

The US flew a B-52 bomber over the Middle East on Wednesday in a show of force aimed at Iran. The Trump administration carried out two similar flyovers shortly before Biden took office.

Israel and Iran have also engaged in a war of words in recent weeks, with Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kohavi saying on Tuesday that he has directed the military to prepare fresh operational plans to strike Iran to block its nuclear program.

In a rare public comment on American foreign policy, the IDF chief warned that Biden should not rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement.

In response to Kohavi’s statements, Iran on Wednesday dismissed the remarks as psychological warfare and said the Jewish state doesn’t have the ability to carry out such a plan anyway.

“We are serious in defending the country,” said Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared to criticize Kohavi’s speech on Wednesday.

“A nuclear Iran is a danger to the world, to the region and is a challenge to the security of Israel. Of course, Israel must be prepared to defend itself in any way, but red lines are drawn in closed rooms,” Gantz said.

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