With Europe seething at Iran, Netanyahu takes off for meeting with Macron

PM’s first announced trip abroad since returning to power comes amid rising tensions with Palestinians, but Israel’s focus will be on threat from Tehran

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L)) and his wife, Sara, ahead of a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris on February 2, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L)) and his wife, Sara, ahead of a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris on February 2, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took off Thursday morning for Paris, where he will meet President Emmanuel Macron at  Élysée Palace in the evening.

The two are expected to focus on Iran during their meeting, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, though Macron is also expected to talk about rising violence between Israel and Palestinians.

Before boarding his flight to Paris, 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.”

European powers’ talks with Iran over a 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.

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.

France is relatively hawkish on Iran, and has at times taken positions toward Tehran’s nuclear program that are tougher than Washington’s. But Macron still supports a return to the JCPOA.

A man is seen on the ground after a blast following a drone attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Netanyahu is also slated to meet French finance leaders and members of the Paris Jewish community.

His visit will keep him and his wife in Paris over Shabbat, and he is scheduled to return on Saturday night.

Before flying out, Netanyahu opened the embassy of Chad alongside President Mahamat Deby earlier Thursday.

It will be Netanyahu’s second official trip abroad as premier since returning to office, after recently meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman in an unannounced visit.

Macron called Netanyahu on Monday to express condolences over the 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) hosts French President Emmanuel Macron at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. (Koby Gideon/GPO/File)

During the call, Macron urged Israelis and Palestinians not to “feed the spiral of violence” and “expressed his availability to contribute to the resumption of dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” the Elysée Palace said in a statement.

The French president also “expressed France’s full and complete solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism” and repeated “France’s unwavering attachment to Israel’s security,” the palace said.

According to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office, the two also “sharply condemned Iran’s active participation in harming innocent civilians in Ukraine” and agreed to continue the dialogue between Israel and France on various regional issues.

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