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U.S.-Israel Collaboration to Counter Iran

Israel Update – Week of May 14, 2023

U.S.-Israel Collaboration to counter Iran: In my report of April 23, 2023, less than a month ago, I spoke of the burgeoning U.S. – Israeli defense collaboration. I also mentioned that this particular sword cuts two ways, such that Israel might feel that in certain cases, collaboration with the U.S. could impinge on Israel’s freedom to act. In a recent article in Axios, titled “Scoop: U.S. proposed conducting joint military planning with Israel on Iran,” this tension comes to the forefront.

The Axios article discusses a proposition from the Biden Administration made recently to the Israeli government to engage in joint military planning concerning Iran. According to the article, the extent of the cooperation would be “unprecedented” and “could significantly upgrade U.S.-Israeli military cooperation.” Nevertheless, the Israelis are not as enthusiastic as the U.S. would like them to be, owing to a suspicion that the U.S. might be tying their hands in an attempt to prevent a preemptive attack on an Iran, with whom the U.S. is negotiating a new nuclear deal.

The collaboration proposal came up during recent visits to Israel by chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and CENTCOM commander Gen. Erik Kurilla. While Israel did not nix the deal outright, they did voice a request for clarifications, including whether the proposed collaboration would stay in the realm of intelligence and scenarios or extend into the realm of joint operations. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Phillip Ventura said that senior Defense Department leaders “have made repeated public statements regarding our interest in expanding military cooperation with the Israeli Defense Forces to include by increasing joint participation in military training exercises in order to improve interoperability and promote a common understanding of regional security challenges."

The U.S. has been negotiating a new nuclear deal with Iran in one way another since the Biden Administration took over in January, 2021. Negotiations are proving thorny, as the U.S. team is less than clear as to their status and their goals. Last week, a senior U.S. envoy left the negotiating team amid a report of “differences of opinion” on the way forward as the attempt to restore the deal intensifies. Richard Nephew is no longer serving as deputy special envoy for Iran, a senior State Department official said. The official did not give a reason for the personnel change. The Wall Street Journal was more vocal about the issue, asserting that “Nephew left after differences of opinion within the U.S. negotiating team [and had] advocated a tougher posture in the current negotiations.”

The U.S. is fully aware of Israeli angst regarding a potential return to the negotiations.

Iran is very close to crossing the nuclear threshold, and Israel has made it very clear that only a credible military threat will prevent Iran from crossing the Rubicon.

General Milley’s March trip to Israel followed revelations that Iran has enriched uranium to near weapons-grade level (90%), as well as several airstrikes attributed to Israel that hit Iranian targets in Syria. That same month in a meeting with Austin,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the U.S. and Israel “have a shared agenda – to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, to stop Iranian aggression, to protect regional security and prosperity, and to expand the circle of peace.”

National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 4, tried to address Israeli qualms. After extolling the U.S. – Israel relationship, Sullivan fielded a question from the Hudson Institute’s Rob Satloff (who spoke for USIEA on Capitol Hill in 2017) regarding the White House not inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington, as is common practice with previous sitting Israeli Prime Ministers. Sullivan answered, “I think kind of speculating or describing or trying to set any conditions around it just doesn’t comport with the way Joe Biden does business, and never has done business anywhere, especially with a country he loves like Israel and with prime ministers he’s dealt with for a very long time. So I’ll just leave it at that.” It is becoming clear to some that, to paraphrase President Obama, there seem to be rays of daylight creeping in between the United States and Israel.

USIEA took four Members of Congress to Israel in February and U.S. – Israel cooperation in the face of a nuclear Iran was a prominent topic of discussion. The members went home understanding that in order for cooperation and collaboration to succeed, the U.S. needed to offer unconditional support for Israel’s obligation to protect herself. To this end, last month Reps. Randy Weber (R-TX), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Rick Allen (R-GA), Juan Vargas (D-CA) – all of whom came to Israel with USIEA – along with Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), introduced a resolution to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and recognize the authoritarian and extremist regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a threat to Israel and global stability.

The resolution “Recognizes the State of Israel as our strongest ally in the region and reaffirms the support of the United States to defend its right to existence; Stands firmly in defense of Israel in an unprovoked attack on their state and citizens; believes the United States and international community must ensure the Islamic Republic of Iran does not build or acquire any nuclear weapons.” This is the kind of support that can – and will – foster collaboration and cooperation.

Wishing you a quiet week,

Ari Sacher

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