Top Biden aide raises Iran threats, W. Bank violence in meet with visiting IDF chief

US readout says Jake Sullivan, Aviv Kohavi discussed taking steps to de-escalate security situation beyond Green Line, while former stresses support for 2-state solution

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

File: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
File: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Visiting IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi discussed the threats posed by Iran along with the fragile security situation in the West Bank during a White House meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration said Monday.

The US readout from the meeting contained several of the Biden administration’s go-to talking points regarding its Middle East policy and none of the other lines represented new positions from the administration either.

Kohavi was in town on a five day-trip, meeting with senior US security officials in order to discuss coordination efforts against Iran. However, the Biden administration has also been keen to address the situation in the West Bank, fearing a breakdown of the PA’s control amid an ongoing IDF crackdown on Palestinian terror activity and settler violence could further damage already-dim prospects for a two-state solution.

“The two discussed the importance of taking steps to de-escalate the security situation in the West Bank, and Mr. Sullivan reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution remains the best avenue to achieve a lasting peace,” the White House readout said.

An IDF statement on the meeting was not immediately available.

Last week, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr visited the region and urged Israeli security officials to advance steps to strengthen the PA amid growing concerns that it is on the verge of collapse, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

Israeli security forces deploy riot dispersal means amid altercations between Israelis and Palestinians, on their way to visit the tomb of Othniel in the West Bank city of Hebron, on November 19, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Amr said the US expected Israel to move forward with previously pledged projects to improve Palestinian livelihood and strengthen the Palestinian economy, the official said.

Amr’s concern echoed those of Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar who also warned Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu last week that the PA could collapse, causing a security deterioration.

The US readout from the Monday meeting between Sullivan and Kohavi said the two “emphasized their shared determination to address security challenges impacting the Middle East, including the threats posed by Iran and its proxies.”

“Sullivan affirmed the President’s commitment to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon,” the statement added.

The US and Israel don’t see eye-to-eye on Iran, with Jerusalem opposing the Biden administration’s attempts to revive the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs to curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

But that disagreement has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has preferred to focus on addressing the ongoing civilian protests in Iran against the regime.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, left, awards the Legion of Merit to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 21, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has meanwhile been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. US President Joe Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers exhausting the diplomatic route first.

Earlier Monday, Kohavi met with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who awarded his Israeli counterpart the Legion of Merit commander degree.

The Legion of Merit can be awarded by the US Armed Forces to foreign military and political officials who “distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services,” according to US law. It is the sixth-highest honor that the United States can bestow on a US citizen.

Former IDF chiefs of staff Gadi Eizenkot, Benny Gantz, and Gabi Ashkenazi also received the Legion of Merit during their tenures as heads of the Israeli military.

The official Washington visit marked Kohavi’s final one as chief of staff, as his tenure is set to end on January 17.

Kohavi was also scheduled to meet with CIA Director William Burns, and US Central Command chief Michael Erik Kurilla, among other senior defense officials.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report

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