Ashkenazi tells UK counterpart Israel ‘disappointed’ in Iran arms embargo vote

‘Global effort to stop Iranian aggression has to be expressed in deeds, not only declarations,’ Israeli FM tells British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, at Jerusalem meeting

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy/Miri Shimonovich)
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy/Miri Shimonovich)

Israel was disappointed in Britain, France, and Germany, for failing to support an extension of the five-year UN arms embargo on Iran, Israel’s top diplomat told his British counterpart on Tuesday.

“Lifting the embargo will lead to accelerated arming by Iran,” cautioned Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, during a meeting in Jerusalem with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Raab is on a brief trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which the British Embassy in Israel has billed as intended to push for renewed dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

But Israeli leaders Raab met on Tuesday were more concerned with Iran, according to press statements.

“We were disappointed to see the votes of the E3 countries [Britain, France and Germany] in the Security Council on the issue of the extension of the arms embargo on Iran,” said Ashkenazi. “The E3 countries must understand that the concern for regional stability and preventing Iran’s arming is a global interest. The global effort to stop Iranian aggression has to be expressed in deeds, not only in declarations. There’s time to correct. I call on all countries to join the US demand to restore the sanctions mechanism on Iran.”

Raab also met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday, who sounded a similar alarm.

“We must find a way to reactivate the arms embargo on the Iranians,” Gantz told Raab, according to Gantz’s office.

Iran, the defense minister said, was “destabilizing the region and continuing to develop a nuclear program. Israel will not let up and will continue to work at all diplomatic, regional and security levels to prevent Iranian expansion and aggression.”

In the meeting of the two foreign ministers, Ashkenazi also thanked Raab for Britain’s recent recognition of Hezbollah as a terror group.

They also discussed bilateral issues, including trade as Britain exits the EU, as well as regional issues, from Iran to the civil crisis in Lebanon, to the arming of Hezbollah to the normalization deal with the UAE.

The appointment of Israel’s new ambassador to the UK, former deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud, was believed to be on the agenda of the Raab-Ashkenazi meeting. Hotovely’s appointment is awaiting approval by London, where she is considered a controversial figure, as a prominent supporter of settlements and opponent of Palestinian statehood.

After meeting Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Tuesday, Raab will travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

According to a Monday press release by the British embassy, he will “press for renewed dialogue” between the sides.

The trip marks the first official visit to Israel by Raab. According to the embassy, Raab will not give interviews during the visit.

“Israel’s suspension of annexation is an important step towards a more peaceful Middle East,” Raab said in a statement released by his office ahead of the trip. He was referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to suspend his plan to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, including all the settlements and the Jordan Valley, as one of the conditions of the August 13 normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street, in London, September 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

“It is now time for both sides to come together and engage in the dialogue that’s needed to deliver the negotiated two-state solution that can secure lasting peace, security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Raab said.

On his visit to Ramallah, the press release said, Raab “will reaffirm UK opposition to annexation — which is illegal under international law,” and “call on the Palestinians to resume cooperation with Israel and pursue direct negotiations, as a step towards a negotiated two-state solution and a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”

The statement also said Raab would “emphasize the UK’s strong and enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”

Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, is considered a friend of Israel, but opposes some of the Netanyahu government’s signature policies, including the proposed annexation.

In early July, Johnson penned an op-ed for a major Hebrew-language daily, in which he called himself a “passionate defender of Israel,” but said the UK would not recognize Israeli claims in the West Bank that are not accepted by the Palestinians as well.

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