Israeli PM’s Europe tour aims to rally support for tougher stance on Iran

News Analysis  by Keren Setton – Xinhua,  PR China

JERUSALEM, June 7 (Xinhua) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings with European leaders this week posed an attempt to rally support for greater pressure against Israel’s arch enemy Iran.

It was a tough task; impossible some may say.

He first met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then French President Emmanuel Macron, and finished the tour in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Netanyahu’s visit comes after the United States announced last month their withdrawal from the nuclear deal Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Iran in 2015, which stipulated that Iran should curb its nuclear activities in return for a let-up on tough sanctions.

The Israeli prime minister aimed to crack the European wall of support for the deal, but the leaders were reluctant.

In a statement made by Merkel, she said “differences of opinion exist.”

After U.S. President Donald Trump decided to abandon the deal, European leaders were quick to declare their continued support for it. Trump and Netanyahu have been largely isolated in their aversion for the JCPOA.

“Netanyahu is fighting a lost war,” said Moshe Maoz, a professor at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has voiced his opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal from the beginning of the negotiations on it.

“He knows that he is not going to get support, but he is still trying to prevent salvaging of the deal,” said Eran Ezion, former Deputy Head of Israel’s National Security Council.

In their public statements together with the Israeli leader, both Macron and Merkel voiced their continued support for the nuclear deal, but there was willingness to discuss issues that are currently not part of it.

The JCPOA does not address Iranian ballistic missile capabilities, one of the core issues triggering accusations from the United States and Israel.

There has also been criticism about the “sunset” clauses set to end the restrictions on Iranian nuclear activity in 2025. Netanyahu believes Iran will be quick to produce a nuclear weapon at that point.

In addition, he wants the world to deal with an increasing Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria, a cause of great concern to Israel, which may earn some support from Europe.

Ezion said the Israeli prime minister set “a very high bar” on this topic, with Israeli media reporting the European position was moving towards him.

“He does not expect to have a significant effect in the course of one visit, that’s not how diplomacy works,” Ezion told Xinhua. “It’s going to be a long battle … these are critical moments.”

After meeting the French president, Netanyahu clarified his position.

“I want to make it clear that I did not ask President Macron to leave the deal. I think that economic realities are going to decide this matter so it’s not what we focus on actually. What we focus on, and what I focus on, is to stop Iranian aggression in the region,” Netanyahu said.

“Netanyahu puts his trust mostly in the U.S.,” Maoz said. “He wants to show the (Israeli) public that he is a world leader accepted by all these (European) leaders, its more PR (public relations) than something tangible … an attempt to increase his popularity.”

Whether Iran will agree to modifications of the JCPOA remains to be seen, but the newly imposed American sanctions may push them to concede on some matters.

However, Iranian rhetoric and actions parallel to the meetings in Europe spoke differently.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted just as Netanyahu began his tour that “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor.”

And Iran’s nuclear chief has announced it will begin preparations to step up its uranium enrichment capacity within the limits allowed by the JCPOA.

With Israel believed to already possess a substantial nuclear arsenal, the Iranian aspirations do not bode well for the region.

“Eventually, there will be a balance of terror as between nuclear powers, we cannot stop it,” said Maoz.

Ezion believes the remaining parties are “able to perpetuate the deal” and this is what Netanyahu is trying to avoid.

The result of his diplomatic efforts will be seen in the coming weeks.  2018-06-07

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Annex:

Macron to Netanyahu: Jerusalem Embassy Move Led to People Dying, Didn’t Promote Peace

Noa Landau –  Haaretz, Israel

Israeli PM says he did not ask France to quit Iran nuclear deal, saying he believes economic pressure will ‘dissolve’ it

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem led to “people dying” and did not advance peace.

At a joint press conference, Macron and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in their 90-minute-long meeting, they discussed Iran’s growing influence in the region and the 2015 nuclear deal.

Macron said France shared Israel’s concerns about Iran. He stressed the importance of the Iran deal but said it should be complemented with an agreement that would target Tehran’s ballistic-missile program and activities in the region. Macron added that the two leaders agreed to set up joint working groups to coordinate efforts.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, June 5, 2018. Netanyahu is meeting France’s President Macron as Philippe Wojazer/AP

Netanyahu, for his part, said he did not ask Macron to withdraw from the  nuclear deal. “I didn’t ask France to withdraw from JCPOA because I think it will be dissolved by weight of economic forces,” Netanyahu said.

As he put it, “My interest is not this or that agreement but to make sure Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and the last thing anyone wants is to have this theocratic dictatorships have a nuclear arsenal.”

Netanyahu said the “most important thing is to get Iran out of Syria.”

Macron said the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem provoked violence and did not promote peace. “If this leads to people dying it’s not a celebration,” he said, adding that France sought to help find a solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

About the Palestinian issue, Macron said he told Netanyahu about France’s position, which is a “long-term and just solution of two states with Jerusalem as a shared capital.” Macron said he told the prime minister that he was worried about the threats to the peace process, while condemning any violence against civilians and stressing France’s “commitment for the security of Israel.”

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara met with Jewish leaders of France in Paris, June 5, 2018.Haim Tzach / GPO

Netanyahu also mentioned next week’s planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying both Macron and he wished Trump success in his efforts to end the North Korean nuclear threat.

Ahead of his meeting with Macron, Netanyahu and his wife Sara met with leaders of the Jewish community in Paris. The prime minister spoke about Israel-France relations, recent waves of anti-Semitic attacks and the threat of radical Islam.

“We are preventing terrible attacks, including here, in France. Israel has stopped a great deal of attacks in Europe and will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said.

give peace a chance” and “make gestures toward the Palestinians.” Macron suggested that one such gesture would be the freezing of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

At the time, Macron also said he told Netanyahu that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a threat to peace, and that the French government opposed it. Netanyahu told Macron that Israel “would not tolerate” Iran’s presence in Syria.

At Monday’s meeting with Merkel, Netanyahu warned that Iran seeks to wage a religious war in Syria. “This will inflame a religious war, and the consequences will be many more refugees, and you know exactly where they’ll come,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference, adding that “Iran must leave Syria. All of Syria.”

Merkel, who stands by the nuclear agreement, said Germany supported Israel’s right to security. “We have the same goal that Iran must never get a nuclear weapon and the difference between us is how to do that,” she said.

In recent weeks, European countries have expressed concerns over Israel’s use of live fire during mass Palestinian protests along the Gaza border. Macron and May are expected to bring up the violent escalation in Gaza and urge Israel to act with restraint.

 

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