Israel’s Naftali Bennett Backs Hard Line on Iran, Softer Tone With U.S.

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, talking days earlier than his first assembly with President Biden as Israel’s new chief, mentioned he would oppose American-led makes an attempt to reinstate a lapsed nuclear settlement with Iran and proceed Israel’s covert assaults on Iran’s nuclear program.

In an interview with The New York Times, his first with a world information group since succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu in June, he additionally mentioned he would increase West Bank settlements that Mr. Biden opposes, declined to again American plans to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem and dominated out reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinians underneath his watch.

While these insurance policies differed little in substance from these of his predecessor, Mr. Bennett mentioned he would use the assembly with Mr. Biden to attempt to reset the tone of Israel’s relationship with the United States, which was rocky between Mr. Netanyahu and Democratic administrations. He mentioned he would search frequent floor with the Biden administration on Iran, and promised to reach on the White House with a brand new and constructive method to containing Iran’s nuclear program.

“I call it the good-will government,” he mentioned. “There’s a new dimension here — coming up with new ways to address problems, being very realistic, very pragmatic, and being reasonable with friends.”

Mr. Bennett mentioned he would current a brand new strategic imaginative and prescient on Iran, which he mentioned would come with strengthening ties with Arab nations against Iran’s regional affect and nuclear ambitions, taking diplomatic and financial motion in opposition to Iran, and persevering with Israel’s clandestine assaults on Iran, together with what he known as “the gray-area stuff.”

“What we need to do, and what we are doing, is forming a regional coalition of reasonable Arab countries, together with us, that will fend off and block this expansion and this desire for domination” by Iran, Mr. Bennett mentioned.

“Israel is here,” he added. “We are the precise anchor of stability, of willingness to do the job to keep this area safer.”

Against the backdrop of America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the set up of a brand new, hard-line president in Iran, Mr. Bennett’s attraction offensive may present Mr. Biden with a minor overseas coverage laurel — the revitalization of a relationship with a key American ally after current setbacks on the world stage.

Mr. Bennett promised a brand new and constructive method to containing Iran’s nuclear program. “There’s a new dimension here,” he mentioned.Credit…Amit Elkayam for The New York Times

But it may additionally present kindling for friction.

Mr. Bennett didn’t reveal the small print of his new imaginative and prescient for Iran, however the insurance policies he cited may simply as simply have been articulated by Mr. Netanyahu, if maybe extra combatively. Mr. Netanyahu vehemently opposed the 2015 nuclear settlement, often known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which he mentioned didn’t do sufficient to limit Iran’s long-term nuclear ambitions and failed to deal with Iran’s different destabilizing actions within the area, together with its help for proxy militias.

Mr. Netanyahu efficiently inspired President Trump to desert the deal. He additionally accelerated a long-running shadow struggle with Iran and sealed diplomatic agreements with 4 Arab nations that after ostracized Israel — offers that he hoped would assist his battle in opposition to Iran.

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But Mr. Bennett’s constructive tone differs from that of Mr. Netanyahu, who had a powerful relationship with the Trump administration however a fraught one with the Democratic administrations that book-ended Mr. Trump’s tenure. In 2015, Mr. Netanyahu antagonized President Obama with a combative speech earlier than Congress that criticized the approaching nuclear deal, and in 2010 he embarrassed Mr. Biden, then Mr. Obama’s vice chairman, when his authorities introduced new settlement development in East Jerusalem shortly after Mr. Biden arrived in Israel on an official go to.

It took Mr. Biden practically a month after his inauguration to name Mr. Netanyahu, which some Israeli analysts took as a snub. In distinction, Mr. Biden known as Mr. Bennett simply two hours after the brand new Israeli chief had been sworn into workplace.

Mr. Bennett’s extra conciliatory method is a part of a wider effort by the brand new premier to indicate that Israel has moved on from Mr. Netanyahu, who developed an more and more fractious relationship with congressional Democrats and polarized American Jews, an method that critics mentioned risked turning seven a long time of stable American help for Israel right into a partisan challenge.

By distinction, Mr. Bennett heads a various governing coalition that he says goals to appease Israel’s social and political divisions, sort out home coverage conundrums that went unaddressed throughout Mr. Netanyahu’s last years in energy and heal relations with the Biden administration and estranged Arab nations, like Jordan.

“We could be this lighthouse in a storm, if you will,” Mr. Bennett mentioned.

A former high-tech entrepreneur who spent elements of his childhood within the United States and Canada and speaks fluent English, Mr. Bennett represents a brand new era in Israeli politics. The first Israeli prime minister to put on a kippa, a Jewish skullcap, he has lengthy moved simply between the non secular and secular worlds and says the abilities required for constructing profitable start-ups equally apply on the subject of rebooting the nation.

Mr. Bennett mentioned he would current a brand new “strategic vision” on Iran, which would come with strengthening ties with Arab nations against Iran’s regional affect and nuclear ambitions.Credit…Amit Elkayam for The New York Times

“It’s all about flexibility,” he mentioned. “It’s about responding rapidly to new information and new developments.”

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But on main points, the brand new Israel is lots just like the previous one.

A former settler chief who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, Mr. Bennett mentioned there could be no decision of the battle with the Palestinians for the foreseeable future. But he additionally mentioned that he wouldn’t advance his earlier plan, later endorsed then dropped by Mr. Netanyahu, to annex giant elements of the occupied West Bank.

Peace talks is not going to occur partly as a result of the Palestinian management is fractured and rudderless, he mentioned. But additionally as a result of Mr. Bennett is resolutely against Palestinian sovereignty.

And on a sensible degree, any try to deal with the difficulty would break up his various coalition, which incorporates events that help Palestinian statehood and others opposed.

“This government is a government that will make dramatic breakthroughs in the economy,” Mr. Bennett mentioned. “Its claim to fame will not be solving the 130-year-old conflict here in Israel.”

He added: “This government will neither annex nor form a Palestinian state, everyone gets that. I’m prime minister of all Israelis, and what I’m doing now is finding the middle ground — how we can focus on what we agree upon.”

In Mr. Bennett’s view, most issues, together with the Palestinian battle, may be addressed by means of “economy, economy, economy.” He intends to focus on bottom-up, on-the-ground steps that he mentioned have been extra essential than recycled political efforts doomed to failure.

But on the development of West Bank settlements and the blockade of Gaza, Mr. Bennett is choosing up the place Mr. Netanyahu left off.

The blockade will stay so long as Hamas, the militant group that guidelines the territory, continues to arm itself and hearth rockets at Israel, he mentioned. And he mentioned he could be ready to interact in one other struggle with Hamas even when it misplaced him the help of the 4 Arab lawmakers whose backing retains him in energy.

“I will do what’s necessary to secure my people,” Mr. Bennett mentioned. “I will not and never involve political considerations in defense- and security-related decisions.”

Mr. Bennett licensed a number of air raids on militant bases in Gaza on current nights, after arsonists in Gaza despatched incendiary balloons into southern Israel and a militant shot and critically wounded an Israeli soldier who had been firing on Palestinian rioters. These exchanges examined the delicate cease-fire that ended an 11-day struggle in May, however which has but to be formalized.

Mr. Bennett mentioned his authorities would lengthen a longstanding Israeli coverage of increasing current settlements within the West Bank, which a lot of the world considers unlawful underneath worldwide legislation and an obstacle to the creation of a future Palestinian state within the occupied territories.

“Israel will continue the standard policy of natural growth,” Mr. Bennett mentioned.

The Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. Mr. Bennett mentioned he would proceed Israel’s coverage of increasing current settlements within the occupied West Bank.Credit…Daniel Rolider for The New York Times

He additionally declined to remark instantly on whether or not he would block the Biden administration’s efforts to reestablish a consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Mr. Trump closed the consulate, folding its duties into the United States Embassy, which he moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

But Mr. Biden hopes to reopen the consulate to assist mend a relationship with the Palestinians that collapsed underneath Mr. Trump. Palestinians hope that East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967, will in the future kind the capital of a Palestinian state. Mr. Bennett chafes at any gesture that may sign help for a future division of town.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Mr. Bennett mentioned. “It’s not the capital of other nations.”

And the prime minister batted away rights points that current polls counsel are of accelerating concern to liberal Jews within the United States. He rejected claims that Israel operates a coverage of apartheid within the West Bank, and condemned a current resolution by the ice-cream maker, Ben & Jerry’s, to cease promoting ice cream within the occupied territories.

Over the course of an hourlong interview, Mr. Bennett was at his most engaged and passionate when speaking about extra technocratic matters, like his current resolution to supply Israelis with a 3rd dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Israel is battling a fourth wave of coronavirus infections regardless of having a world-leading vaccination program. Mr. Bennett is micromanaging the disaster, beginning every day by reviewing new world and Israeli information and analysis.

He pioneered the availability of booster pictures earlier than the follow was authorised even by American well being authorities, once more turning Israel right into a real-world check case for vaccine efficacy.

“I talk to, I’d say, three or four leaders around the world about stuff every week,” Mr. Bennett mentioned. “The moment Covid comes up, a 20-minute call turns into an hour-and-a-half call. Because Covid is the biggest issue on every leader’s plate.”

Surrounded by biographies of nice leaders — together with Caesar, Abraham Lincoln and Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion — Mr. Bennett portrayed himself as having ready all his life for this second of management.

But amid all of the discuss of a post-Netanyahu period, it was not lengthy earlier than the Israeli actuality hit house. Mid-interview, an aide burst into Mr. Bennett’s workplace, asking us to depart. A home public relations disaster wanted the prime minister’s pressing consideration.

Mr. Bennett had spoken the earlier evening to the household of the soldier wounded within the current Gaza clashes, and at one level bungled the soldier’s title. Another politician had additionally known as the household and gotten all the small print proper, the soldier’s mom instructed the Israeli information media that morning.

The politician’s title was Benjamin Netanyahu.