The Biden administration acknowledges a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is unlikely and is open to Israeli alternatives, according to a senior member of visiting Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s entourage in Washington.
The Israeli delegation’s positions received “significant attention” from the administration, as “they themselves understand that it may be that we find ourselves in a reality without an agreement, and [even] if there is an agreement, there are holes that must be filled,” the Times of Israel reported.
Bennett met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday and was slated to meet with Biden on Thursday.
Administration officials assured Bennett that Israel would be provided with whatever it needed to defend itself against Iran.
Austin said the Department of Defense was “committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, and to ensur[ing] that Israel can defend itself against threats from Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups.”
He also noted Tehran’s “alarming nuclear steps and continuing regional aggression,” and added that it “must be held accountable for acts of aggression in the Middle East and on international waters,” pointing to Iran’s attack on the Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, in which two crewmen were killed.
“The US is committed to strengthening its strategic relationship with Israel. The administration is committed to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense,” he added.
The New York Times published an interview with Bennett in which he promised to present Biden with a “new strategy” on Iran that that would include Arab nations that also feel threatened by Tehran’s hegemonic aspirations.
“What we need to do, and what we are doing, is forming a regional coalition of reasonable Arab countries, together with us, that will fend off and block this expansion and this desire for domination” by Iran, Bennett said.
The Biden administration has attempted to reenter the accord by holding indirect talks in Vienna for the past several months, but the efforts were frozen after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi’s appointment as Iranian president. The Trump administration withdrew from the Obama-negotiated deal in 2018.
The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog last month reported that Iran had produced enriched uranium to more than 60% purity, a short step from weapons-grade. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said Tehran has produced 200 grams of enriched up to 20 percent, the ingredient comprising the core of a nuclear bomb. Under the deal, Iran is barred from producing the metal and the U.S. has said Tehran “has no credible need to produce uranium metal.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday warned Iran was only two months away from obtaining a nuclear bomb.