French MP invokes Munich 1938 in warning against Iran deal

Meyer Habib, a close friend of Netanyahu, confirms he lobbied to scuttle Geneva accord, intends to tell French parliament Wednesday it must be thwarted

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

French MP Meyer Habib (screen capture Meyer Habib/YouTube)
French MP Meyer Habib (screen capture Meyer Habib/YouTube)

A French lawmaker and close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Israel Tuesday that he was very worried about the upcoming round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, comparing them to an infamous conference that cleared the way for Adolf Hitler’s takeover of Eastern Europe.

The parliamentarian, Meyer Habib, confirmed that he contacted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius last week to warn him that Israel would launch a military strike if necessary to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. He said he made the call at his own initiative, rather than speaking on Netanyahu’s behalf.

“I call on all Europeans and want to remind them of the agreement between [prewar French prime minister Édouard] Daladier and [prewar British prime minister Neville] Chamberlain,” Habib said Tuesday, referring to the 1938 Munich agreement, which has become a symbol for international appeasement. “They received the war and they received the shame. Next week there is still an opportunity not to give up,” he added, referring to the next round of nuclear talks with Iran, set to begin in Geneva on November 20.

Habib, who represents French citizens living in Israel and seven other Mediterranean countries in the National Assembly in Paris, was speaking during a Knesset session dealing with Israeli-European issues. The session was headed by Labor MK Hillel Bar.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Habib said he had known Netanyahu for more than 20 years and was “very close” to him. However, he emphasized, he did not speak in the Israeli leader’s name when he lobbied Fabius. Rather, as an elected French official responsible for the security of about 200,000 expatriates living in Israel, he felt genuinely concerned about the likelihood of a deal between six world powers and Iran that would allow Tehran to advance toward a nuclear weapons capability, he said.

Habib, who is a member of the French assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said he spoke to Netanyahu on Monday but refused to reveal the content of the conversation.

“I speak to the prime minister often and I know his positions. He will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. I want Europe to understand that it’s in its interest to prevent a war,” he said. “I told [Fabius on Thursday] that I know Israel will not accept a nuclear Iran [because] it would mean the destruction of the State of Israel. And if they [the P5+1 nations] want to prevent a war, they shouldn’t sign the agreement.” Fabius “understood that,” he added.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on his way to a meeting, during the third day of closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva Switzerland, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Jean-Christophe Bott,Pool)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on his way to a meeting, during the third day of closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva Switzerland, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Jean-Christophe Bott,Pool)

The French foreign minister was widely reported to have scuppered the emerging deal late Saturday, leading to the halting of the negotiations with Iran, and an agreement to reconvene on November 20.

Iran heavily criticized the French for ostensibly blocking the deal, with Iran’s state TV branding France “Israel’s representatives” at the talks.

Netanyahu has slammed the prospective deal at least once a day since last Friday as “bad” and “dangerous,” criticized the US for endorsing it, and argued that it will give Iran relief from sanctions without the necessity to dismantle any elements of its nuclear program. US Secretary of State John Kerry, by contrast, has sniped back at Netanyahu for what he claims is misplaced criticism, saying that the deal will work as an interim arrangement to freeze the Iranian program while offering only very limited sanctions relief. Kerry has also said it was Iran that rejected the deal in Geneva on Saturday.

Habib, who will accompany French President Francois Hollande next week on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said Tuesday he was “terribly afraid” of that the possible interim deal would endanger Israel’s security.

On Wednesday, Habib, 52, said he wants to raise the issue in parliament in Paris. He plans to thank the French government for its steadfast position in Geneva over the weekend but warn it of relenting next week during the next round of talks with Iran.

“I’m very afraid of the United States, of the pressure [they exert to] arrive at an agreement at any cost,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s okay to have an agreement; it just needs [to include] that the Iranians are not allowed to enrich [uranium] to more than 3.5 percent [enrichment], and to stop the centrifuges.”

Iran could be allowed to keep enriching uranium to a low level of 3.5% if an invasive inspections regime is put in place, Habib said.

In recent public statements, Netanyahu has been insisting that Iran not be allowed to retain any enrichment capability.

Netanyahu and Habib, who was elected to the National Assembly in June, have a history of helping each other out. “I have known Meyer Habib for many years and he is a good friend to me and to Israel,” Netanyahu said in French in a video of endorsement posted to YouTube in May. Standing next to Habib, Netanyahu continued in Hebrew: “He fights a lot for Israel, for public opinion, and cares intensely about the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and he has helped me over the years deepen Israeli-French relations.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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