During their respective addresses to the UN General Assembly meeting this week, Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi both expressed a desire to continue talks focused on the restoration of the JCPOA nuclear agreement in Vienna. This even as Raisi blasted the "hegemonic United States" and its nation-building efforts abroad in places like Iraq and Afghanistan as having "failed miserably".
On Wednesday Axios has revealed that secret talks between top Israeli officials and the White House have resumed, which are focused on putting in place "plan B" actions should nuclear talks fail to resume. The talks are said to be between Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata.
"This is the first time a top-secret U.S.-Israel strategic working group on Iran has convened since the new Israeli government took office in June," Axios notes.
In August Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had hinted at the plans, which weren't initially confirmed by the US side. Sounding threatening and ominous in statements which was a thinly veiled threat at military action, Gantz said at the time:
"The United States and Israel share intelligence information, and the cooperation with the United States in this field is only getting stronger. We are working with them in order to establish a Plan B and to demonstrate that if there is no deal, other activities will begin..."
When Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was hosted for the first time at the White House in late August, both sides confirmed they would resume the secretive sessions, focused on intelligence planning and 'alternate' scenarios to jointly pursue of nuclear talks fail.
Going all the way back to Obama and into the Trump administration, the working group was seen as part of covert strategy cooperation between Washington and Tel Aviv to bring pressure to bear on Tehran. Axios details:
- It was the main venue for strategizing over how to apply pressure on Iran during Obama’s first term, and it became the primary setting to air disagreements about the nuclear deal during Obama’s second term.
- During Donald Trump's tenure, the forum convened to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and to coordinate the "maximum pressure" campaign.
Indeed during the Trump administration Israel carried out some incredibly brazen covert attacks inside the Islamic Republic...
Israel killed Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year using a remote-controlled machine gun and artificial intelligence | via New York Timeshttps://t.co/8Vi8rXlH8c— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 19, 2021
Under Trump it's believed the working group implemented much more aggressive plans for acts of covert espionage against Iran's nuclear program, leading to instances of sabotage against the Natanz nuclear facility (and likely others), which disabled it for at least months.
But while Trump employed increasingly war-like rhetoric against the Iranians, which escalated to the January 2020 drone assassination of IRGC Quds force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Biden has expressed a desire to avoid a war-footing with yet another Middle East country, instead holding out hope for restoring the JPOA deal brokered under Obama.