AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Joe Biden

The Israeli prime minister could not get through to the president because Biden was “on vacation.”

By Beth Stern

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid was recently rebuffed when sought to speak to U.S. President Joe Biden about the seemingly final version of the nuclear deal that currently on Iran’s table, Channel 13 reported Wednesday evening.

Israel’s National Security Agency has been trying to arrange a phone call between the two leaders, but Israeli sources told the media outlet that the Americans’ response was that Biden was unavailable because he was “on vacation.”

The assumption is that the two will eventually speak, according to the report, but the rejection, even if only temporary, may be sending a message to Israel that its concerns are not the highest order of priority for the administration.

As the outlet’s commentator Gil Tamari put it, “When the president of the United States wants to speak with a leader, he talks to him from anywhere, there’s no problem… So it seems that right now he doesn’t want to speak to Lapid.”

There has been a flurry of recent activity over what is being called the “final draft” of an agreement, which would see harsh American economic sanctions removed in exchange for Iran’s return to temporary limitations on its nuclear program.

Tehran has supposedly softened some of its demands, such as not demanding the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from its terrorist list, which may signify that it is more or less ready to sign on the dotted line. However, other demands remain in place, including closing the International Atomic Agency’s probe into undeclared nuclear sites in the country, and that the U.S. be prevented from leaving the deal again in the future.

Without having consulted first with Jerusalem, the Americans on Wednesday already sent a response that Iran is “studying,” even though a source told Channel 13 that “the gaps between us and the Americans are very large.”

Lapid was ready by the phone, but took instead to the podium at his office Wednesday to air his concerns.

He told a group of foreign journalists, “In our eyes [the deal] does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”

The current version is simply “a bad deal,” he said, citing among other reasons, that “It would give Iran $100 billion a year, [which] will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe,” including “more attacks on American bases in the Middle East….and of course, to strengthen Iran’s nuclear program.”

“The countries of the West,” he added, “draw a red line, the Iranians ignore it, and the red line moves.”

He did not go all out on the attack, however, calling Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known,” and saying, “I appreciate [America’s] willingness to listen and work together.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz is leaving for Washington Thursday. He is not scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, because he, too, is out of town, Channel 13 said. Instead, he will be discussing Iran with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.