Israel will risk tensions with Biden to block Iran, Netanyahu says

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at a ceremony for the new director of Israel's Mossad spy agency that Israel must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon even at the cost of tensions with the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The U.S. is holding indirect talks with Iran on a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Netanyahu, who may be in his final days as prime minister, is a fierce critic of the deal and contends a U.S. return would take the pressure off the Iranian regime.

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Between the lines: Netanyahu has amped up his rhetoric on Iran in recent days, since a ceasefire was reached with Hamas and his rivals moved toward an alternative government that could oust him within a week.

What he's saying: “An Iranian nuclear bomb is a threat for the continuation of the Zionist project and we must fight it relentlessly. If we have to choose between friction with our great friend the U.S. and the elimination of this existential threat, the elimination of the threat will come first," Netanyahu said.

  • He stressed that he told President Biden Israel would continue its efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining the bomb with or without a nuclear deal. “Containment is not an option," Netanyahu said.

The other side: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attacked Netanyahu for his remarks and claimed he was damaging Israel’s relations with the Biden administration.

  • “The Biden administration is a true friend of Israel and Israel will have no better partner than the U.S. and if there are differences they will be solved in direct talks in closed rooms and not through defiant rhetoric that could harm Israel’s security," Gantz said.

What’s next: Gantz is planning to visit Washington later this week and will meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday, Israeli officials say.

  • The talks are expected to focus on emergency U.S. military aid to replenish Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system and supply the Israeli Air Force with new munitions.

  • Several Democratic senators and members of Congress have raised concerns about additional arms sales to Israel after the fighting in Gaza.

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