Bennett, Sullivan meet to develop ‘common strategy’ on Iran, security

“When Israel and the United States stand together, we stand stronger, and that’s the spirit with which I’m here today," said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, December 22, 2021.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Israel and the US are working on a common strategy for their security and interests, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem on Wednesday, at a key time in world powers’ nuclear talks with Iran.

The negotiations in Vienna were at the top of the agenda for the meeting, as well as one between Sullivan and Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata.

Bennett expressed appreciation for Sullivan visiting so close to the holidays and wished a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to him and US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.

Sullivan said that his arrival right before Christmas highlighted that at a “critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues, it’s important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook, and find a way forward that fundamentally secures your country’s interests and mine. And we believe those interests, like the values upon which our countries are built, are deeply shared and deeply felt.”

That shared strategy will be the focus of the fourth meeting of the Strategic Consultative Group, cochaired by Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Hulata, and including officials from the Defense Ministry and US Department of Defense, and the Foreign Ministry and US State Department, as well as both countries’ intelligence communities.

 US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog, December 21, 2021.  (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog, December 21, 2021. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Sullivan also thanked Bennett for showing his support for Biden and the US while he was in Washington in August, when the US suffered a major terrorist attack in Afghanistan. Bennett’s meeting with Biden was delayed for a day, and his trip to the US was extended to allow the administration deal with the attack.

“That moment – I think like this moment we’re in now – just reflects the extent to which, when Israel and the United States stand together, we stand stronger, and that’s the spirit with which I’m here today,” Sullivan stated.

The strong relationship between Israel and the US, and between Bennett’s government and the Biden administration, allows them to “talk openly and candidly about all the shared challenges that we’re facing,” the prime minister said.

“These days are pretty important,” Bennett said. “What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years. And that’s why it’s such a timely meeting.”

The negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers for Tehran and Washington to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal went on hiatus last week, and are not expected to return until next week at the earliest.

During the talks, Iran presented a draft agreement reversing all progress in earlier rounds of talks in April-June of this year, leading the European parties to the talks – Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3 – to express frustration at the process and say time is running out for Iran to return to the JCPOA.

On Tuesday night, President Isaac Herzog warned Sullivan that Iran is using the negotiations to buy time as it works on a nuclear weapon.

“The president underscored the need to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, at any price,” an official at the President’s Residence said.

Herzog described the Middle East as divided into “a coalition of Israel and Arab states pursuing peace, resisting Iran, and working toward a better world for their citizens, and Iran’s coalition of terror with its proxies, which seeks to destabilize the region.”

The president said he is concerned “with Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons under the cover of the negotiations in Vienna.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, both of whom are new to their posts, attended the meetings with Herzog and Bennett.

Sullivan also met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset.

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, December 2021 (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, December 2021 (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)

Gantz said world and regional powers must show Iran that it is running out of time.

“Iran is playing for time, and it is the shared responsibility of us, the powers and states of the region, to turn over the hourglass and show the heads of the Iranian regime that playing for time will go badly for them,” Gantz said at an Israel Air Force graduation ceremony. “The correct way to do this is being discussed with our partners on this very day.”

Gantz said that Israel is not seeking war and has always worked responsibly with allies like the US, and will continue to do so when facing the Iranian threat to the world.

A senior Biden administration official said ahead of Sullivan’s visit, “The US and Israel are totally aligned in our determination to ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, and we’ve had a very active dialogue about our approach on that.

“We share with our Israeli partners a deep concern about the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program... following the previous administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA without much thought or plan as to what would come next, and we’ve just seen this dramatic acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program since then,” he added.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley made remarks similar to Herzog’s in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.“It seems very clear [Iran] is trying to build leverage by expanding their nuclear program and hoping to use that leverage to get a better deal. It won’t work,” Malley said. “If they try to build more leverage, number one, they will not get a better deal, because what we say we’re prepared to do is what was negotiated five years ago. Secondly, their strategy is going to backfire if that is their approach.”

Malley said there were only “some weeks left but not much more than that” for the JCPOA to be revived.

“At some point in the not so distant future, we will have to conclude that the JCPOA is no more, and we’d have to negotiate a wholly new, different deal, and of course we’d go through a period of escalating crisis,” Malley told CNN.

The US is prepared to agree to a “sequence of steps” for a return to compliance with the JCPOA, Malley added.

However, Biden cannot legally commit future presidents to the deal, as the Iranians demand.