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'France holds Hamas responsible for the recent war in Gaza'

French envoy to Israel: Iran should never possess nuclear bomb

Eric Danon uses Bastille Day event address to highlight strong bilateral ties, which countries hope to further bolster following periodic strains of Netanyahu era

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog (L) and French Ambassador Eric Danon at a Bastille Day celebration, Jaffa, July 14, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
President Isaac Herzog (L) and French Ambassador Eric Danon at a Bastille Day celebration, Jaffa, July 14, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

France will never allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon, its ambassador to Israel said Wednesday evening in a Bastille Day address at his official Jaffa residence.

“The mullahs’ regime should never possess the nuclear bomb,” Eric Danon declared, speaking in French at a July 14 celebration, which was attended by President Isaac Herzog and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Instead of a speech focusing on culture and history — the usual fare for such an occasion — Danon chose to offer a robust affirmation of the French-Israeli relationship and the joint effort to fight mutual security threats.

“We might have sometimes disagreed on the method,” he continued, “but we stand together to fight simultaneously against the nuclear risk, the ballistic missile threat and the destabilizing actions of Iran in the region, and first of all in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iraq.”

Talks in Vienna between Iran and the world powers known as the P5+1 over the return of Tehran and Washington to the terms of 2015 nuclear deal continue, though the two sides have not been able to bridge key issues.

The JCPOA only deals with Iran’s nuclear program, but Israel and many Sunni Arab states want any future agreement with Iran to also address the issues highlighted by Danon — Tehran’s missile program and its use of proxy forces across the region.

An Israeli firefighter walks next to cars hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The ambassador also pointed the finger squarely at Hamas for the 11-day Gaza conflict in May, emphasizing that “the highest French authorities have clearly identified Hamas as being responsible for the recent war in Gaza, as they have emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense within the framework of international law.”

With the change of government in Jerusalem in June, France and Israel have both expressed a desire to move beyond tensions that were more frequent during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure.

Culture Minister Chili Tropper met with his French counterpart Roselyne Bachelot in Cannes last week to discuss Israel joining the Creative Europe program. Israel’s ascension to Creative Europe would allow it to access millions of euros for art and cultural initiatives.

During Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s trip to Brussels this week, France expressed its desire to see the annual Association Council meetings between Israel and the EU restarted for the first time since 2012.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with 26 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 12, 2021. (European Union)

With many prominent members of the French-Israeli community present at Wednesday’s event, Danon also reaffirmed Paris’s commitment to fight antisemitism.

He pointed out the presence of Yonatan Halimi, whose mother Sarah was murdered in 2017 by a Muslim neighbor who shouted about Allah as he was murdering  Halimi, crying out afterward, “I’ve killed the demon of the neighborhood.” While French courts acknowledged that the crime was antisemitic, two 2019 lower-court determinations held that the killer could not be tried for murder because he was psychotic at the time of the killing — a condition the court concluded stemmed from the fact that he was high on marijuana when he killed Halimi.

“There is a dire need to change the law on criminal irresponsibility,” Danon said in the name of French President Emmanuel Macron. “We are making significant strides, thanks to the intensive work of the Ministry of Justice and the parliamentarians.”

“France and Israel have no choice but to fight together against this civilizational threat of anti-Jewish hatred,” he added.

Members of the French Jewish community gather outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv to ask justice for late Sarah Halimi who was murdered by her neighbor in her apartment in Paris, seen on April 25, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Danon acknowledged that France and Israel often quarrel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and United Nations resolutions, but insisted the “relationship is in good shape.”

Danon also thanked Israel for vaccinating French diplomatic staff in Israel against the COVID-19 virus.

Speaking in English after the French envoy, Herzog stressed “the long-lasting friendship between the Israeli and French nations,” and said he looks forward to meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Israel or in France.

“Had Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Acre in 1799, we may have had a Jewish state way before 1948,” the president said to laughs.

“Vive la France! Vive Israel!” he concluded.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai receives a knighthood in the French Legion of Honor from Ambassador Eric Danon, July 14, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Sa’ar also addressed the crowd, hailing the growing cultural ties between the two nations.

Sa’ar thanked the French government for its “staunch support of a policy of zero tolerance for antisemitism.”

After the speeches, Danon conferred Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai with a knighthood in the Legion of Honor, France’s highest order of merit.

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