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Lapid: European countries cannot ignore Iranian threats besides nuclear program

Vistinig German foreign minister stresses commitment to Israel’s security, says Iran nuclear deal will make Jewish state safer

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

German FM Annalena Baerbock (L) and FM Yair Lapid (R) at a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2022 (Miri Shomonovich/GPO)
German FM Annalena Baerbock (L) and FM Yair Lapid (R) at a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2022 (Miri Shomonovich/GPO)

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv with his German counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stressed on Thursday that Europe must recognize that Tehran’s nuclear program is only one component of the danger Tehran presents to the world.

“The E3 countries cannot also ignore the threat posed by Iran beyond its nuclear program,” Lapid said, referring to the European countries involved in the Iranian nuclear deal negotiations. “Iran is Hezbollah in the north, Iran is Hamas in the south, Iran is an exporter of terror from Yemen to Buenos Aires.”

Lapid added that in his meeting with Annalena Baerbock before the press conference, he spoke about the attempt by human rights organizations to label Israel as an apartheid state.

“This campaign is part of a larger campaign,” he said, “whose goal is to undermine Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Speaking in German at the press conference, Baerbock stressed Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security, calling it a “raison d’etre” for her country.

Baerbock said that Berlin believes that a nuclear deal with Iran will reduce the threat Israel faces. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having these negotiations,” she said.

The press conference was moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv at the last minute because Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who was meeting Baerbock after Lapid, had a scheduling conflict, the Foreign Ministry said.

German FM Annalena Baerbock (L) and FM Yair Lapid (R speak in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2022 (Miri Shomonovich/GPO)

Iran and the P5+1 powers are in their ninth round of talks in Vienna since April 2021, amid some optimism that negotiations are in the home stretch.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the German foreign minister made clear in the press conference that her country is “convinced that a negotiated two-state solution is still the best solution.”

Though she praised recent confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians from Israel’s government, Baerbock said that Germany considers settlements “harmful and incompatible with international law.”

She also made clear that she was under no illusions that there would be a quick solution to the conflict.

Baerbock said that in her meeting with Lapid, she asked about the six Palestinian organizations that Israel declared in October to be terror groups, and suggested that Israel and Germany create a mechanism for transferring funds from European states to the Palestinians to ensure they do not reach terror groups.

Palestinian employees at the offices of Addameer in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after IDF forces raided 3 Palestinian NGOs, on December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

“We take seriously Israel’s concerns around everything having to do with terrorism, and are looking at setting up a team to deal with the issue,” she said.

Lapid responded that Israel has no issue with the vast majority of the over 400 Palestinian NGOs, but the six organizations in question transferred money to terrorist groups and took advantage of the liberal values that Europe represents.

Responding to a question, Lapid addressed Wednesday’s tweet from  the Board of Deputies of British Jews, UK Jewry’s mainstream umbrella organization, that said Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich should leave the UK because of his “abominable views and the hate-provoking ideology.”

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the opposition Religious Zionist Party, outside the Knesset, on July 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I might have used different language,” Lapid said, while adding that he has long warned that allowing racist views to enter the political discourse in Israel would alienate Jews around the world.

Baerbock, on her first visit to Israel as Germany’s top diplomat, landed in Israel late Wednesday night. Before her meeting Thursday, Baerbock visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and laid a wreath at the site.

“As a mother of two daughters, I find it hard to breathe when I think of the millions of Jewish children who were murdered – torn from their parents, left alone, full of fear,” she wrote on Twitter.

Before departing Germany, Baerbock said, “The new Federal Government will not relax its efforts to promote peace and security for the people in the region. We believe that this is inextricably linked with the protection of human rights, as lasting stability can only be achieved where people have security and the opportunity for peaceful participation.”

She is slated to travel to the West Bank later Thursday to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. She will then travel to Jordan on Friday to meet her counterpart, Ayman Safadi, in the UNRWA-operated Talbieh refugee camp, which receives significant funding from Germany. She concludes her trip in Egypt on Saturday with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

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