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Ex-Envoy: Bennett to Stress Israel's Hard Line on Iran in DC, Even if It's Not to Biden's Liking

© AP Photo / Maya AlleruzzoIn this June 22, 2021 file photo, Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to journalists after touring Ben Gurion Airport, with the Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz and the Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli.
In this June 22, 2021 file photo, Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to journalists after touring Ben Gurion Airport, with the Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz and the Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.07.2021
It will be hard to convince Joe Biden's team that Iran's conduct has been contradicting American and regional interests, says a former Israeli diplomat. But Prime Minister Bennett will make sure to stress that his country has the right to defend itself, even if the move is not backed by Washington.
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to travel to Washington, DC, for a state visit that is slated to take place later this month, although an official date hasn't been set yet.

Iran on the Radar

This will be Bennett's first foreign trip, and probably one of his most important. Yoram Ettinger, a former ambassador, who served as a congressional affairs liaison at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, assesses that the meeting between the two politicians will focus primarily on Iran.
"The prime minister will try to highlight the track record of Iran and show the Biden administration that the future conduct of the ayatollahs can be most realistically assessed against the backdrop of their past behaviour".
Ettinger says Iran's "actual track record" is well-known. For him, it is a state that "agitates" civil wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. It is a country that maintains friendly relations with players that have been challenging the US, and it is a "regime" that's close to Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah and the head of the Gaza Strip, Hamas, deemed terrorist entities by Israel.
Yet, Ettinger says Bennett might find it hard to assure those surrounding Biden, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that backing Iran is a bad idea. Neither will he be able to convince them that the current negotiations Washington is holding with Iran might cause havoc for the US.
"They are veterans in global and Middle Eastern affairs. They are convinced that they know the area better than anyone else, and they are sure that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the right decision. Now they will be determined to erase the legacy of [former President] Donald Trump and will try hard to reach another agreement with Tehran". 
Iran and the US signed the JCPOA in 2015. Back then, the idea was that Tehran would allow international supervision of its nuclear plants in exchange for the gradual lifting of western sanctions. But in 2018 that agreement was dealt a severe blow following a decision by then-US President Donald Trump to unilaterally withdraw from the pact.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.06.2021
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Since then, critics of the former president and his policies have been saying that Iran has only gotten closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb despite Tehran's repeated statements that it does not seek to develop WMDs, and stressing the need for yet another nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for its part, was trying hard to convince Biden that sitting down for another round of talks with Iranian officials would be suicidal. And now with him gone, Bennett is expected to continue his policies. 
During his meeting, he is likely to reiterate that Tehran will not be dropping its "fanatic vision" any time soon, and this is why he will make sure the American president understands that Israel will reserve the right to defend itself.
"Bennett, or any other Israeli leader, cannot afford to engage in delusional exercises, and the PM will make it clear that Israel will not be sitting idly by waiting for a green light from Washington to defend itself". 

Deepening Regional Relations 

Israel has already taken multiple measures to make sure its security is maintained. Aside from boosting its defence spending, it has also bolstered ties with a number of moderate Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in normalisation deals signed in 2020.
"Under Obama, a number of Gulf states realised that they could not rely on the US [as it was tilting towards Iran - ed.]. Israel, on the other hand, was looked at as a reliable partner and that mutual threat has ended up bringing the nations together".
Now, Bennett will want to expand and deepen those ties. Washington, however, would rather downplay their significance. At the beginning of June, the State Department stated that it had discouraged its employees from using the term "Abraham Accords" when referring to the deals signed in October 2020. It urged to call them "normalisation" pacts instead.
For Ettinger, this is not a matter of semantics. It is a shift in attitude. 
"The Abraham Accords were aimed at stabilising the region and they were supposed to gradually include other players too, to expand our deterrence. But this was not the intention of the Biden team. They are pursuing a self-destructive policy that undermines regional stability and America's interests in the area".
Bennett is likely to explain to the American administration what repercussions such an approach will entail, even if it is not to their liking. 
The former diplomat, who has met the American president on a number of occasions, asserts that this won't damage relations between the two politicians. But he also says Israel should not be fooled by the messages coming out of Washington.
"We will probably hear very comforting statements from officials in DC, when the meeting does happen. But we need to pay attention to the walk, not the talk. Because the actual steps are far more important than the smiles and the handshakes".
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