Lapid: Europe and the US feel there will be no return to Iran deal

PM says he told Macron there must be credible threat against Tehran, presented intelligence on Hezbollah attacks

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 5, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 5, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

PARIS — In his meeting Tuesday with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Yair Lapid stressed the importance of a credible military threat in order to push Iran into a nuclear deal that is acceptable to Israel.

“Our claim is that if Iran won’t agree to this deal, they won’t agree to anything without a credible military threat,” Lapid told Israeli reporters in Paris after the meeting.

There is also a growing acceptance, the prime minister claimed, that there won’t be a return to the 2015 JCPOA deal.

“The feeling is that there won’t be a deal, and if there is no deal, then there needs to be something else,” said Lapid.

Having the Iranians believing there could be a military strike on their nuclear facilities and military assets is the key to creating that alternative, in Israel’s eyes.

“It’s part of the conversation, with both the E-3 countries, and with the Americans,” said Lapid.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (R) embraces French President Emmanuel Macron at a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 5, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Iran signed the JCPOA nuclear agreement along with the US, Russia, China, and the three largest European powers — the UK, Germany, and France.

The Donald Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018, and on-again, off-again talks held mainly in Vienna to find a way back to an agreement recently restarted in Qatar.

Lapid and Macron also spoke at length about Lebanon, and a recent drone incursion from Lebanese territory toward Israel’s gas rigs. The Israeli delegation presented intelligence to their French counterparts on Hezbollah activities in Lebanon.

“We will cooperate with them to prevent this from continuing so we won’t have to use military force,” said Lapid. “Israel will not hesitate to act in order to prevent attacks on our gas rigs.”

An Israeli Sa’ar Class 4.5 missile boat guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Jerusalem considers strikes on its Mediterranean gas rigs as “attacks on Israel’s sovereign territory,” Lapid said.

“The French are extremely displeased” with the drone launch, he added.

Lapid and Macron agreed that the two countries would embark on a strategic dialogue, according to the prime minister. Israel will play a significant role in France’s military buildup in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, especially in the cyber domain.

“The French are going to strengthen their army. We have plenty to offer on these issues.”

The two leaders spoke about the effects of the war, especially on energy and food security.

A senior Israeli official acknowledged Tuesday that Russia-Israel relations were deteriorating, but insisted this was not specific to Israel. “Russia’s relations with the West are deteriorating, and we are part of the West,” the official said.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 5, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The visit, especially its public elements, exuded an air of friendship, both between the two leaders — who communicate regularly by text — and between the countries.

But it was impossible to paper over significant differences on key issues. The French announcement about the visit, and Macron’s public statement, highlighted the war in Ukraine. Lapid’s focus, on the other hand, was on Iran’s nuclear program and armed proxy groups.

Macron did address the Iran nuclear talks, but stressed the importance of “defending this agreement.” But Israel wants to see the JCPOA scrapped permanently in favor of a new deal.

The French leader agreed that the JCPOA is insufficient on its own to “contain Iran’s destabilizing activities,” but said he was “more convinced than ever that an Iran on the nuclear threshold could carry out these activities in a more dangerous manner.”

Macron called for continued negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional terrorist groups.

While Lapid avoided speaking about the Palestinians in his public statements, Macron did so, saying there “is no alternative to a resumption of political dialogue.”

He offered to support Lapid in that process, which the Israeli leader indicated he is not about to advance in any way before the November elections.

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