A former US ambassador to Israel has joined President Joe Biden's team working on Iran, exposing Israel's very deep influence in Washington. Dan Shapiro served as ambassador under the administration of former President Barack Obama.
According to a State Department spokesperson, Shapiro has now been appointed as a part-time senior advisor and special government employee as part of a new team working in the Biden administration. "[He] is the first of what we plan to be a small group of part-time advisers, who will add to the diversity of perspective and knowledge" on the team of Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley. The spokesperson added that US policy on Iran "will benefit greatly from the participation of a diplomat of his calibre and experience."
Shapiro's appointment is significant not only due to his expertise and experience, but also his connections with Israel. When he stepped down as ambassador, Shapiro settled in the apartheid state and worked at the Institute for National Security Studies as a senior fellow, as well as a principal at consultancy firm WestExec Advisors. He has also maintained close ties with Israeli politicians across the political spectrum.
How all that is relevant to his role in Washington's team on Iran, however, links back to Israel's demand that the US should consult it in the ongoing negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal.
Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 deal, and Biden has made it a key objective to restart talks and possibly re-join the other signatories. Israel has repeatedly urged Biden not to do so, however, and demanded that it be involved in any decision-making in this regard.
In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US was consulting with Israel on the nuclear talks. Earlier this month the head of the Central Intelligence Agency made a visit to Israel to discuss the situation in Iran.
Last week – only days before Shapiro's appointment – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Biden in the White House. Despite no clear plan being outlined for that meeting, Iran was amongst the most prominent agenda items; it was reported earlier that Bennett would present the US government with a new strategy for dealing with the government in Tehran.
The importance of Shapiro to Biden's Iran team and its coordination with Israel has been acknowledged by many. Former senior advisor to the US government Dennis Ross was quoted by Haaretz describing it as "a very smart move" which "shows that the administration is very serious about coordinating with the Israelis."