United States and Israel They have chosen to reconvene a strategic working group on Iran, and the first round of intelligence talks on the Iranian nuclear program are expected in the coming days, Axios has learned.
Because it is important: President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have very contrasting views on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but the resumption of the task force is a sign that their governments are starting with serious and professional dialogue rather than a political struggle.
Retrospective scene: The task force was established in the early days of the Obama administration after a visit to the Netanyahu White House in 2009. The top-secret forum was even given a special codename.
- It was the primary venue for strategizing on how to apply pressure to Iran during Obama’s first term, and it became the primary venue for voicing disagreements on the nuclear deal during Obama’s second term.
- During Donald Trump’s tenure, the forum met to discuss US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and to coordinate the “maximum pressure” campaign.
- The forum is led by national security advisers from the US and Israel, currently Jake Sullivan and Meir Ben-Shabbat, and includes senior officials from the various national security, foreign policy and intelligence agencies in both countries.
Driving the news: Sullivan proposed resuming the task force in his first phone call with Ben-Shabat on January 23.
- Israel was involved in an inter-agency disagreement over how to interact with the White House on Iran, and the decision to accept the proposal was further delayed by internal Israeli turmoil ahead of next month’s elections.
Behind the scenes: On Monday, Netanyahu held the first high-level inter-agency meeting on Iran with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and the heads of the other intelligence and national security agencies.
- The meeting began with the various agencies providing updates on their commitments to date with the Biden administration, to provide a complete picture of what had been discussed through the various channels, sources familiar with the meeting told me.
- Then came proposals on how to interact with the Biden administration in the future. The directors of the Mossad intelligence agency and the Israel Defense Forces emphasized the need for a calm dialogue, free from public clashes.
- The main point of action was the decision to accept the proposal to resume the working group.
Whats Next: The top Israeli priority at the first meeting, which will take place via a secure video conferencing system, is to present all the latest intelligence and data on Iran’s nuclear program and assess whether the intelligence images from the United States and Israel are line up.
- Israeli sources familiar with the matter say that a mutual intelligence baseline should be established before moving on to policy discussions.
The state of the game: Netanyahu was quick to express his concern last Friday after Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the United States was prepared to start nuclear talks with Iran aimed at restoring the 2015 agreement.