BERLIN, Germany — Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that he gave German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “sensitive and relevant intelligence information” on Iran’s nuclear program during a meeting in Berlin earlier in the day.
Scholz, meanwhile, confirmed that Iranian demands had put a nuclear deal opposed by Israel out of reach “in the near future,” as Lapid urged the German leader and others to quit pursuing talks with Tehran on reviving the 2015 pact.
“Our partnership also requires us to act together against the growing threat of Iran becoming a nuclear state,” Lapid said in English, standing next to Scholz at an outdoor press conference with Israeli and German media.
Lapid added that the two leaders discussed the need for a new strategy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, saying it was “time to move past the failed negotiations with Iran.”
“Returning to the nuclear agreement, under the current conditions, would be a critical mistake,” Lapid said.
“We agree that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon,” noted Scholz, speaking in German.
Germany is one of the countries negotiating with Iran to revive the agreement with world powers that offered Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program intended to prevent it from producing a weapon.
After the US pulled out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions, Iran abandoned many of its own commitments, ramping up its stockpiles of enriched uranium beyond limits set in the pact.
Negotiations were recently reported to be nearing an agreement to revive the JCPOA and bring the US back into the pact along with the remaining signatories, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Israel has pressured its Western allies against signing the new agreement, and a senior Israeli official said Sunday that Jerusalem does not believe that Iran and world powers will return to the nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the United States.
Scholz said he regretted that Iran “has not yet given a positive response to proposals” from the Europeans. “There is now actually no reason for Iran not to agree to these proposals. But we have to note that this is not the case, and will not happen certainly in the near future.”
The comments echoed a joint statement over the weekend in which Germany, France and Britain charged that Tehran “has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity.”
“Instead, Iran continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification,” it said. Iran’s foreign ministry criticized those comments as “unconstructive.”
Before flying to Berlin, Lapid told his cabinet that “Israel is conducting a successful diplomatic campaign to stop the nuclear agreement and prevent the lifting of sanctions on Iran.”
Alongside Scholz, Lapid said the goal of his 24-hour visit was to “conclude the final details of a strategic partnership agreement between Israel and Germany.”
“Israel, for its part, will play a role in building Germany’s new defense force, mainly in the field of air defense,” he said.
He said Israel was in talks to sell Germany its Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system, but did not detail the scope of the deal or how much it might be worth.
A German source told Reuters that “there is the plan to buy Arrow 3, but nothing is signed.”
The Arrow 3 is currently Israel’s most advanced long-range missile defense system, meant to intercept ballistic missiles while they are still outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, taking out projectiles and their nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional warheads closer to their launch sites. It was developed in a joint project between the Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization and the American Missile Defense Agency.
German attitudes toward defense spending — and its own threat perception — have been transformed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
“Liberal democracies must be willing and able to defend themselves,” said Lapid. “Sometimes, freedom must be defended with force.”
In his prepared remarks, Scholz spoke at some length about Germany’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned against any unilateral actions that render that outcome less likely.
Both German and Israeli journalists asked the leaders about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s accusation during a Berlin press conference with Scholz that Israel had committed “50 holocausts” against Palestinians.
Abbas’s remark was roundly lambasted in Israel, the United States and Germany, including by Scholz himself, who was criticized for remaining silent as he stood beside Abbas.
“What President Abbas said was disgraceful, was disrespectful, and horrible, just plain horrible,” said Lapid, who after the press conference joined Scholz and a delegation of survivors from Israel on a visit to Wannsee, site of a 1942 conference where top Nazi officials finalized plans to send Jews to death camps.
He emphasized on two occasions that such ideas also exist in Palestinian textbooks. “This kind of incitement is what they teach their children,” said Lapid.
He also expressed his appreciation for Scholz’s condemnation of Abbas’s remarks, delayed though they were. “He was taken off guard,” Lapid explained.
Scholz also forcefully denounced the statements, saying they, and any relativization of the Holocaust, have no place in Germany.
In response to a question, Lapid condemned Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s comparison of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to Joseph Goebbels.
“I denounce what the minister of finance said, as I denounce any comparison between the Holocaust and anything,” he said. “I am happy to see that the minister of finance took back what he said.”
On Sunday, Liberman accused political rival and opposition leader Netanyahu of employing the “exact methods” of Goebbels, the Nazi party’s chief propogandist, as well as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Amid a heated election season, Scholz said Israel was in “good hands” with Lapid.
“I value the political skill with which you represent Israel in the world,” he said in a prepared statement at the Federal Chancellery.
Lapid started off his morning with a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, followed by a sit-down with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. Iran’s nuclear program and bilateral ties headlined the meetings, according to statements from Lapid’s office.
Scholz greeted Lapid at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin shortly before noon. A Bundeswehr honor guard greeted the premier as a military band played Israel’s national anthem.
Beyond the gates of the compound, pro-Palestinian demonstrators waved flags and called for “a free Palestine.”
The two leaders held a private meeting before the press conference, and held a working meeting with their staffs afterward.
In the working meetings, Lapid was joined by National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, Military Secretary Avi Gil, Foreign Policy Advisor Yair Zivan, Senior Advisor Gili Haushner, Ambassador Ron Prosor, and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz.