According to a report from Axios, the US and Israel are set to begin talks on intelligence related to Iran’s nuclear program through a top-secret forum known as the “working group.” The talks are expected to begin in the coming days.
The working group was first formed in 2009, when the Obama administration was coordinating with Israel to ratchet up pressure on Iran through sanctions and other means. It also served as a forum for Israel to lodge complaints while the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, was being negotiated.
Under the Trump administration, the working group convened to discuss the US withdrawal of the JCPOA and coordinate on the so-called “maximum pressure campaign” that has decimated Iran’s economy through crippling sanctions, which are still in place.
The forum is headed by both nations’ national security advisors, currently Jake Sullivan in the US and Meir Ben-Shabbat in Israel. The report said Sullivan proposed a revival of the working group during his first phone call with Ben-Shabbat on January 23rd.
It’s no secret that Israel opposes the Biden administration rejoining the JCPOA, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been very vocal about it. On Monday, Netanyahu held a meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other agency heads on the best way to approach the US and Iran.
Reports from Monday’s meeting said the Israelis decided to keep communications with the US at an advisor-level, so Netanyahu does not strain ties with President Biden. The working group seems to be the ideal forum for the Israelis.
A report from Israeli TV on Tuesday said Israel is also discussing Iran with Saudi Arabia, another staunch opponent of the US rejoining the JCPOA. According to the report, senior Saudi and Israeli officials held recent phone calls discussing the JCPOA and the Saudis expressed concern with the new US administration, lamenting the fact that President Biden is focused on Riyadh’s human rights abuses.