Tel Aviv and Washington: What happens behind closed doors

For many years, and perhaps decades, the very special and exclusive relations between the US and Israel remained a mystery for which experts could not provide a real explanation.

Many focused on the concept of the functional role that Israel plays in serving US interests in the Middle East, while others believe that Israel could not have a powerful independent existence without US protection and sponsorship.

Nearly all have ruled out the possibility that there would be any conflicts of interest between the two sides, US and Israel, amid a firm conviction that their interests are so much in harmony.

In recent years, some restlessness began to appear in the comments of senior Israeli politicians, in opposition to the US’ policies in the Middle East, especially regarding Iran and Syria.

With the fading of the American era and the emergence of global powers competing for international leadership, such as China and Russia, the Israelis began to intensify their relations with the two countries.

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There were also suggestions that Israel was not ready to bet on a historical relationship with the US if such a relationship were to have negative repercussions on Israeli interests.

Such conclusions used to be described as hasty, that it is impossible for Israel to find an ally like the US, and that Israel is obliged to adapt its policies in line with US intentions. However, Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements about this relationship on 31 May, in his speech at the head of Mossad replacement ceremony, were a surprise. In his speech, Netanyahu affirmed his absolute rejection of the US return to the nuclear agreement with Iran, contrary to the desire of the administration of US President Joe Biden.

Netanyahu asserted that his government would continue to work to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, even if an agreement is reached. Netanyahu went even further and stated: “If we have to choose, and I hope this does not happen, between not colliding with our great friend, the United States, and between removing the Iranian threat to our existence, we will choose to remove the threat.”

What is remarkable here is that none of the leaders of the Israeli government or opposition, particularly the leaders of the Change Camp, which is ready to take power within days, has rejected this challenge.

The only objection came from Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who did not object to what Netanyahu remarked, but to the fact that Netanyahu made this conflict public and announced it to the media. The US response was quick, and Gantz was summoned the same day to travel to Washington to meet senior US officials. Gantz travelled the next day, on Wednesday.

On Thursday, 3 June, Gantz had extensive meetings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. Statements issued by these three officials of the Biden administration should be regarded as what is permissible outside of closed doors.

As for what actually happened behind closed doors, which would be what Washington wants and what Gantz spoke about on his return to Tel Aviv, remains hidden. However, some of its indications can be identified from the public statements of these officials, and the important comment issued by the prospective Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

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The first of these indications is how serious Israel is as it insists on destroying Iran’s nuclear capabilities, prioritising Israeli security requirements and demanding that the US adapts to that.

The second of these indicators is that although the US does not fully approve of Israel’s plan to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons, it is keen, as Sullivan stressed in the words of President Biden, to support Israel’s right to defend itself and that both parties are concerned about Iran’s aggressive behaviour.

The third indicator is that Israel’s determination to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities will be a top priority on the new government’s agenda, as Bennett revealed.

Bennett’s first television interview after signing the government coalition was on 3 June, the same day as Gantz’s meetings in Washington. In response to a question about the possibility that he might confront the US administration over the Iranian nuclear file, Bennett said that his compass points first and foremost towards Israel’s security, and that Israel’s security is more important than the world would admit, but that despite this, partnership with the US is strategic.

These three indicators about what was discussed behind closed doors altogether increase the uncertainty of the future of Israeli-US relations over the next few years. However, those facts are still locked behind closed doors.

Translated from Thenewkhalij, 11 11 June, 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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