ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Hosting Netanyahu, Macron raises alarm over ‘headlong’ Iran nuclear rush

At warm Paris dinner summit, Israeli premier urges Europeans to up sanctions on Islamic Republic; French president calls for calm with Palestinians

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) gesture prior to a working dinner at the Presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) gesture prior to a working dinner at the Presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron blasted Iran’s “headlong rush” to develop its nuclear program Thursday following a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Élysée Palace.

The premier urged France to back enhanced sanctions against Iran and to increase deterrence against the Islamic Republic and its proxies during talks with Macron.

In a statement released by the Elysee Palace, Macron called for “firmness in the face of Iran’s headlong rush, which if continued would inevitably have consequences.”

The French leader also noted “that Iranian support for Russian aggression in Ukraine exposes Iran to sanctions and increasing isolation,” according to the Elysee.

The meeting, the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power late last year, had all the trappings of a warm encounter. Macron and Netanyahu embraced on the steps of the palace before waving to the cameras.

They then had a dinner meeting along with their respective staffs, before sitting for a private meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) bids farewell to French President Emmanuel Macron after their meeting in Paris, February 3, 2023 (Courtesy)

Macron and Netanyahu embraced once again before the Israeli leader got into his car to head to the Hotel du Collectionneur, where he and his wife Sara are spending the weekend. The premier is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.

Before taking off for Paris earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said that the focus of his conversations with Macron would be “our joint efforts to stop Iran’s aggression and its drive toward a nuclear weapon.”

However, Macron also pressed Netanyahu on rising violence between Israel and the Palestinians, urging Israel to avoid “any measures that could fuel the spiral of violence,” the palace said.

He also stressed France’s commitment to the “historic status quo at the Holy Places in Jerusalem,” and its firm opposition to settlement building.

Macron’s office said before the get-together that the French leader would also “reiterate the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, depart for a trip to Paris on February 2, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Macron called Netanyahu on Monday to express condolences over a deadly terror attack that killed seven Israelis and injured three in Jerusalem on Friday. The two decided on the visit during the conversation.

They last met in Jerusalem in January 2020.

France  – a permanent member of the UN Security Council – is an important power in the eastern Mediterranean. It maintains a significant naval and aerial presence in the Mediterranean, and enjoys an historic role in Lebanon.

Macron was instrumental in getting the Israel-Lebanon maritime deal done last year and France has shown signs in recent weeks that it may be working to expand its influence in the region.

While Macron met Netanyahu in Paris, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna flew to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. France is a major arms supplier to both countries, with Riyadh becoming the biggest purchaser of French weapons in 2020.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on October 12, 2022. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

Macron also mediated a regional summit in Jordan in December about the future of Iraq.

On Iran, Israel’s main concern, France is often more hawkish than the United States, and has a history of tense and bloody relations with Tehran.

European powers’ talks with Iran over a US return to the 2015 nuclear deal have been stalled for months, and a return to the negotiating table seems unlikely as Western anger at Tehran grows.

Iran has been sending Shahed-136 loitering munitions to Russia, which have been used in deadly attacks against Ukrainian civilians. Military officials in Ukraine are also warning about the danger of Iranian ballistic missiles being used in the war, which has dominated the European agenda for the last 11 months.

Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna, File)

Western governments have also been blasting the Islamic Republic for its deadly crackdown on protesters since countrywide demonstrations erupted in September.

Israel is pushing the powers known at the P5+1 to declare the Vienna nuclear talks dead and implement a “snapback,” reimposing UN Security Council sanctions and effectively moving on from the framework of the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

 

By “playing the Ukraine card,” Netanyahu hopes to “consolidate an anti-Iranian front” with the West, said David Khalfa at the Fondation Jean Jaures, a Paris-based think tank.

He hopes for “increased sanctions against Iran and the full addition of the Revolutionary Guards to the list” of sanctioned entities, Khalfa added — a step both France and Germany have so far resisted.

France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP earlier, saying the nuclear program had reached “a dangerous point” and highlighting Tehran’s role in the Ukraine war.

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