Israel is trying to use top General Mark Milley as a conduit to Biden in Iran

Israel used the recent visit of General Mark Milley, the chief of staff, to send more messages to the new Biden administration on Iran and other regional developments, senior Israeli officials told me.

Why does it matter: Israel is very concerned about President Biden’s plans for Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, but has not yet opened direct contacts with the new administration. Milley is a potential bridge to Biden’s White House as she expects to stay beyond the transition.

What are they saying: “We wanted to propose to the new administration in Iran through someone who will still be in the room when Biden takes office and will play a key role in any policy review that takes place,” an Israeli official said. .

News management: Milley arrived in Israel last Thursday after visiting several Arab capitals. It was his third visit to the region this year and came amid fears of Iranian retaliation over the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

  • Milley met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, General Aviv Kochavi.

Behind the scenes: The main message to Milley from the Israelis was that Biden should not rush back to the 2015 agreement, but should take advantage of the fact that Iran is in a weak position, say Israeli officials who participated in the talks.

  • If Biden does not use the leverage that the US has accumulated through its “maximum pressure” sanctions regime, the Israelis have argued, he will find it impossible to reach a better deal later.
  • “I stressed that the starting point of any discussion with Iran is much better for the US today than in 2013. What is needed now is to be tough to get a better deal,” an Israeli official said.

Game status: Biden says he will return to the 2015 agreement if Iran returns to compliance and tries to use it as a platform to negotiate a broader and more lasting agreement. This would require the US to lift sanctions and Iran to carry out its recent nuclear activities.

Milley explained that he has not yet had a chance to speak with members of the future administration, but said Biden’s national security team has a pro-commitment approach to Iran, according to an Israeli official.

  • Milley even referred to John Kerry and Susan Rice as among those who could influence the administration’s thinking on Iran, an Israeli official said, despite the fact that their roles (Kerry as climate climate, Rice leading the domestic policy council) they have nothing to do with Iran.

The Israelis also told Milley that the incoming administration should be more flexible in its relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite concerns about their human rights records, officials said.

  • “We believe it is important for the next administration to maintain the momentum of the normalization process, and we believe that, at the moment, what should drive US policy is this historic regional opportunity. So, we hope that the new administration will analyze the complexities and will not burn the bridges with these countries “, an Israeli official told me.

What’s next: Major policy gaps between the Israeli government and the new US administration are likely to lead to tensions. These tensions could rise ahead of the Israeli elections in March if Netanyahu objects to Biden’s policies as part of his campaign.