Israeli official: European leaders agree Iran troops must be removed from Syria

As Netanyahu ends his visit to Germany, France, UK, diplomatic source quoted as saying there is ‘widespread agreement’ on ending Tehran’s military presence in country

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in London on June 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in London on June 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL)

A senior diplomatic official on Wednesday told Israeli reporters the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany have reached a “general agreement” regarding the removal of Iranian forces from Syria.

Speaking as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was wrapping up a diplomatic trip to Berlin, Paris, and London, the official said there was “widespread agreement” among the three leaders — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Theresa May — that Iranian troops must be entirely removed from the war-torn country.

Before setting out on his trip to visit European leaders, Netanyahu had indicated that Iran would be the first and only subject on his agenda.

Israel fears that as the Syrian civil war winds down, Iran, whose forces and Shiite proxies have backed President Bashar Assad, will entrench militarily in the neighboring country and turn its focus on Israel.

As the tour approached a close, the Israeli official said there had been “significant progress,” on the issues, according to Hebrew reports.

British Prime Minister Theresa May poses for photographs with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inside 10 Downing Street in London on June 6, 2018, at the beginning of their meeting. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / TOBY MELVILLE)

The prime minister was also lobbying the European leaders to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a demand which British Prime Minister Theresa May rejected during a meeting on Wednesday.

The official said the three European leaders also agreed to Israel’s request to have the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency review the Iranian nuclear archives the Mossad intelligence agency managed to uncover in a covert operation earlier this year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Netanyahu also spoke to journalists in London, telling them “my main goal was to bring international agreement that Iran would leave Syria,” according to Hebrew media reports.

He said that since world powers signed a 2015 deal with Iran intended to limit the regime’s nuclear aspirations, he had two goals, “To prevent the nuclear program and to smash the cash machine that finances this empire.”

He said that following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, which the other signatories were still attempting to uphold, he had seen signs of the credit crunch in Iran.

“My point was to harness the leading European countries to oppose the continued expansion of Iran,” he said, adding that he had also discussed this with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) in Berlin, Germany on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/ GPO/ Flash90)

Merkel on Monday told Netanyahu that she agrees with Israel’s demand that Iranian troops be removed from Syria, especially the area close to the Israeli border.

“Iran’s regional influence is worrying,” she said, adding that her government would use “diplomatic” means to counter it.

The Israeli Air Force is believed to have carried out numerous airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria. Last month, the bitter enemies openly clashed when Iran fired dozens of rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, and Israel responded by striking Iranian targets in Syria.

Lebanese soldiers inspect remains of a Syrian surface-to-air missile that had apparently been fired at Israeli jets during an extensive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria, which landed in the southern Lebanese village of Hebarieh, on May 10, 2018. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Last week, it was reported that Israel and Russia had reached a deal to remove Iranian forces from southern Syria, while also giving Israel a green light to strike Iranian targets in Syria.

The reported agreement would see Iranian forces leave southwestern Syria, while allowing Israel to strike Iranian assets deep in the country. Israel agreed not to attack Syrian regime targets, a report in the Arabic Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, with Netanyahu’s enthusiastic encouragement and support.

Both the US and Israel hope that Trump’s withdrawal can lead all sides into addressing what they say are the deal’s shortcomings — including “sunset” provisions that eventually end restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium, as well as permitting Iran to continue to develop long-range missiles.

Merkel, like other European leaders with whom Netanyahu met with this week, has urged Trump to remain in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Raphael Ahren and Agencies contributed to this report.

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