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New US Secretary of State Blinken speaks to Israeli FM Ashkenazi for first time

The allies’ top diplomats discuss Iran, peace efforts in highest level contact yet between Israel and Biden administration

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)
Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, in the highest-level contact yet between Jerusalem and the new American administration.

The two discussed “expanding the circle of peace, the Iranian threat and other issues,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Ashkenazi congratulated Blinken on his new role and expressed confidence that Jerusalem and Washington will “combat global terrorism” and the Iranian threat.

The two agreed to continue talks and meet when pandemic restrictions permit.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have yet to speak.

The Biden administration’s policy on Iran is expected to be a point of contention between the new US administration and Israel.

Biden is expected to take a softer approach to Iran than his predecessor Donald Trump and has said he will rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Iran returns to its terms.

Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi attends the annual Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic republic.

Israeli officials have warned against the US rejoining the Iran deal. IDF chief Aviv Kohavi issued a rare public criticism of the US plans on Tuesday and said that he had ordered the military to develop operational plans for striking Iran’s nuclear program.

Defense Ministry Benny Gantz appeared to rebuke Kohavi for the comments on Wednesday.

Tensions in the Middle East have climbed in recent months as Iran and the Trump administration exchanged a steady stream of threats before Trump’s term ended earlier this month, and Iran carried out fresh breaches of the nuclear agreement.

Iran’s aggressive moves were believed to be partially aimed at increasing its leverage ahead of negotiations with Biden.

Israeli officials have voiced strong objections to the US rejoining the nuclear deal, and have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks.

The US flew a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber over the Middle East on Wednesday in a show of force directed at Iran. The Trump administration carried out two similar flights weeks before Trump’s term ended.

The Biden administration has pledged to consult with Israel and its Middle East allies before making decisions regarding Iran.

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