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PM: Biden’s visit ‘vital,’ goal is to finalize joint plan against nuclear Iran

Bennett tells reporters Israel succeeded in preventing a bad deal from being signed, but wants a better one in the long term

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and US President Joe Biden. (Composite/AP)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and US President Joe Biden. (Composite/AP)

Israel’s primary goal during US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit will be “to finalize a clear joint plan of action together with the US to stop Iran’s nuclear program,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday.

“This visit is vital for Israel,” said Bennett, explaining that it would deal with key priorities for Israel over the past year, especially Iran’s nuclear program.

Bennett said that “the world is waking up to Iran’s true face,” pointing to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s censure of Iran earlier this month during its Board of Governors meeting in Geneva.

Bennett made the comments in his Jerusalem office during a briefing to Israeli reporters.

The premier said Israel had “succeeded” in preventing a return to what it views as a bad deal. Now, its short-term goal was to stop Iranian uranium enrichment.

In the long term, however, Israel would be interested in an improved agreement, the prime minister said. He defined such a deal as one that permanently prevents Iran from progressing toward a nuclear weapon.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi shows the inner of a case of an IAEA monitoring device during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP/Michael Gruber)

Also on Monday, Iran said that the “train has still not derailed” in negotiations aiming to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, despite new US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The Vienna talks, which began in April last year, aim to return the US to the nuclear deal, including through the lifting of sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments.

But the ever-delicate dialogue has been stalled since March.

Biden’s visit, scheduled to begin on July 13, will also deal with “strengthening regional architectures between the more moderate actors in the region,” according to Bennett.

A senior US administration official said last week that Biden would focus on “increasing integration into the region through the Abraham Accords — normalization agreements Jerusalem signed with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco — through the strengthening of Israel’s ties with Israel and Egypt and through the creation of a new forum established by the Biden administration that includes the US, the UAE, Israel and India — the I2U2.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) and Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speak to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed, October 18, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

While in Israel, Biden will participate in a virtual summit of the I2U2 alongside Bennett, UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed and Indian President Narendra Modi, the US official said, in what would be the highest-level gathering of the forum to date

Biden will visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13 to July 16. While in Israel, Biden is expected to meet with Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, according to an Israeli official. The official added that Biden is also slated to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and East Jerusalem.

A senior Biden administration official said the president would likely tour a US-funded missile defense system in Israel in order to highlight White House efforts to secure an additional $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome battery replenishments n the wake of the May 2021 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls. Biden will also “discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats.”

During the Monday briefing, Bennett touted the fact that the past year “was the quietest for residents of Sderot and the Gaza border region.”

Supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group prepare balloon-borne incendiary devices to launch toward Israel, east of Gaza City, on June 15, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

He also said that the past year has been the slowest in years for Hamas in terms of its military buildup. Bennett credited Israel’s “improved relations with Egypt” for more intensive checks at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

“We restored deterrence,” Bennett declared. “I remind you that after Operation Guardian of the Walls, Hamas continued to send explosive balloons and to burn the south.”

Israel fought Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups over 11 days in May 2021 in the fourth round of major combat since Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9.

Bennett said that four policies had strengthened Israel’s deterrence: preventing Hamas from receiving “suitcases of cash” from Qatar; responding to every incendiary balloon sent from Gaza; allowing the Israeli Flag March to go ahead through Jerusalem’s Old City as scheduled despite Hamas threats; and allowing thousands of workers from Gaza into Israel.

The prime minister said that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to delay the Flag March in 2021 in the face of Hamas threats “deeply damaged Israeli deterrence.”

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