Senior Israeli security officials meet counterparts in Washington

What happened: Israel and the US have agreed to establish a joint committee to study the threat from Iran and its proxies and their use of unmanned drones (UAVs) and precision-guided missiles.

  • US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat will head the committee.
  • Yesterday on the Lebanese border IDF troops downed a drone belonging to Hezbollah that crossed into Israeli airspace.
  • In Washington, a series of meetings between Israel and the US are underway as senior representatives of three security branches meet with their respective counterparts. Israel’s National Security Adviser Ben-Shabbat met with Sullivan yesterday. Mossad director Yossi Cohen is due to meet with the director of the CIA, William Burns. While head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Tamir Heyman and the commander of the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman will meet with the deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the US Army, Lt. Gen. Laura Potter.
  • According to a White House statement, “US and Israeli officials discussed their serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear programme in recent years. The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasised strong US interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward. The United States and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behaviour in the region, and US officials underscored President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Context: The Israeli delegation’s visit to the US is the first time that both sides are meeting in person to discuss Iran as well as the US-Israeli military and intelligence relationship under the Biden administration. Previously, Ben-Shabbat and Sullivan held two online meetings as part of a bilateral strategic group, which aimed at collaborating each side’s intelligence map on Iran’s nuclear programme.

  • Israeli political and security officials are concerned that the Biden administration will forgo most of the leverage handed over to it by President Donald Trump to force Iran to renegotiate a better agreement, if it returns to the current JCPOA and lifts US nuclear sanctions. However, the Biden administration appears to be edging closer to returning to the JCPOA as indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the US continue to make ground.
  • According to Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF Military Intelligence, the Israeli delegation should try to get their US counterparts to agree on new understandings of common aims and design plans of action to achieve them. The latter would involve agreed upon nuclear redlines for Iran, formulas for calculating Tehran’s distance from the bomb, contingency plans for a wide range of possible scenarios, a division of labour in the event of a last resort military option, and joint exercises to ensure that the military option remains credible.
  • In 2019, BICOM released a report on Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile programme, which represents one of the main strategic threats facing Israel on its northern borders.
  • Iran recently unveiled new drones with a range of more than 1,000 kilometres. The UAVs can hit targets in Israel as well as US and allied assets elsewhere in the region, according to Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami. Israel has been boosting its air defences to counter more sophisticated threats, including Iranian drones and cruise missiles.
  • The IDF’s electronic warfare unit is currently working on an “electronic Iron Dome” to block drone attacks, a senior officer in the electronic warfare unit told Makor Rishon weekly. The specialised branch is able to minify drone disruption technology and fit it into a small button installed in the body armour of infantry forces.

Looking forward: According to the Washington Post President Biden is expected to appoint Thomas Nides as the next US ambassador to Israel.

  • The position has been vacant since David Friedman left in January. Nides is currently managing director and vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, having previously served as a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration.
  • Israel’s National Cyber Directorate has warned about a possible cyber-attack by Iran to mark that country’s Jerusalem Day on May 7. The Directorate expects attempts to hack Israeli websites and to post propaganda and to steal information from Israeli organisations.

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