Israeli, British PMs hold first call since Netanyahu’s return as premier

Prime minister thanks Rishi Sunak for vote against successful Palestinian move to bring Israel before the ICJ, and for moving to blacklist Iran’s IRGC

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Collage/AP)
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Collage/AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday spoke with his British counterpart Rishi Sunak for the first time since reclaiming the premiership in late December.

Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the UK’s recent vote against the successful Palestinian initiative at the UN General Assembly to compel the International Criminal Court to present a legal opinion on Israeli “annexation” and the “legal status of the occupation,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

He also hailed Britain for moving to declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror organization.

Netanyahu and Sunak discussed further expanding bilateral ties as well as global issues such as the threats posed by Iran and the war in Ukraine, the PMO said.

Sunak reiterated his plan to visit Israel as the Jewish state celebrates its 75th anniversary of independence in the spring.

A readout from Sunak’s office was not immediately available.

Sunak met last month with President Isaac Herzog at the COP27 UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. At the time, Sunak said that Israel was “one of our closest friends, our closest allies, and there is an enormous amount for us to continue working on together.”

The British prime minister took office in October amid political upheaval in the UK after the 44-day tenure of Liz Truss.

Liz Truss, right, and Rishi Sunak on stage after a Conservative leadership election at Wembley Arena in London, August 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

While Truss had floated the idea of the UK relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a spokeswoman for Sunak said in November that there were “no plans” to do so.

Truss’s proposal drew broad criticism, with ambassadors to London from every Arab country reportedly penning a letter urging her not to go ahead with the idea.

In the past, Sunak had expressed support for such a move, telling a Conservative Friends of Israel event in August that Jerusalem was “indisputably the historic capital” of Israel and that there was a “very strong case” for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. “It’s something I’d like to do,” he said at the time.

But Sunak also acknowledged “sensitivities” over the issue, saying: “If it was that easy, it would have been done by now.”

The UK’s minister for the Middle East region Tariq Ahmad was in Israel last week for meetings with government officials.

During the trip, he paid a visit to Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Upon arriving though, Ahmad was initially barred from entering by Israeli police.

Ahmad later played down the incident, telling the BBC that the hold-up was due to “security checks, whatever they needed to do.”

A similar incident took place on Tuesday when Jordan’s ambassador to Israel tried to visit the site. He was held up by police and an altercation unfolded before the envoy decided to leave the compound. He returned later in the day for an uninhibited visit, but the delay led to Jordan dressing down Israel’s ambassador in Amman for the second time in weeks.

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