Israel’s visiting defense minister said Thursday that it will stay engaged as the U.S. tries to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, sidestepping what’s long been an area of open disagreement between the United States and the now-jeopardized government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benny Gantz told reporters before a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat” to Israel. “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States,” Israel and other countries, Gantz said.
But on a visit that came as an opposition coalition back home tries to end Netanyahu’s 12 years in power, Gantz – unlike Netanyahu – stopped short of openly opposing the Biden administration’s efforts to get the United States back into a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Sitting across a table from his U.S. counterpart at the Pentagon, Gantz said, “Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons.”
“Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself,” Gantz added.
The Israeli official made clear the change in tone was purposeful. “We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion … only, not in the media in a provoking way,” he said, calling for “open dialogue behind closed doors.” It echoed Biden’s own embrace of what the administration has called quiet diplomacy when dealing with Israel.
Netanyahu’s years-long fight to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal – struck during the Obama administration in 2015, but rejected by President Donald Trump after his election – included Netanyahu denouncing it to a 2015 joint session of the U.S. Congress as a “very bad deal.”