After Germany this Monday and before the UK this Wednesday, Benyamin Netanyahu will be received in Paris on Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Benyamin Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is due to meet with British government leader Theresa May. On most topics, he disagrees with European leaders.
In the eyes of Israel, the Islamic Republic is the main existential threat to the country. The Israeli authorities denounce its desire to obtain the atomic weapon and its expansionist policy in the Middle East: the establishment of Iranian bases in Syria, near Israeli borders in particular.
“Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” Benyamin Netanyahu said during the Council of Ministers on the eve of his departure to Europe.
The Israeli Prime Minister has just delivered this message to these European interlocutors once again. But he also wants to discuss “how to thwart Iran’s plans for expansion and aggression across the Middle East, particularly in Syria.”
And while Israel has conducted several air raids against Iranian positions north of its border, Benyamin Netanyahu has assured that in his talks in Berlin, Paris and London, he will insist “on a simple principle: Israel retains and will always preserve freedom of action against the establishment of an Iranian military presence anywhere in Syria”.
But on the Iranian issue, a major discrepancy opposes Europeans and Israelis: their perception of the Vienna agreement signed July 14, 2015. Benyamin Netanyahu has always fought, even before its signing, this text supposed to control the nuclear program of Tehran.
The Europeans, for their part, continue to support it, to consider it indispensable, even after the withdrawal of the United States announced on May 8 by Donald Trump.
Benyamin Netanyahu would like the Europeans to follow suit to the American president. But realistic about his chances of success in this business, he who repeats in English about the agreement “fix it or nix it”, “improve it or give it up” in French, should especially plead for an improvement of the text.
The Israeli prime minister wants to try to negotiate with his interlocutors the addition of a new component that would include two issues eluded in the nuclear agreement.
The first is Iran’s ballistic program, with the Islamic Republic seeking, according to Israel, to equip itself with increasingly powerful missiles.
The second is Iran’s expansionist policy in the region: its presence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
The Israeli Prime Minister could take over an idea of Emmanuel Macron. During his visit to the United States in late April, the French president had himself proposed to Donald Trump to negotiate a second agreement with Iran.
Tehran said its opposition to the project but “as we are at a pivotal stage where the Iranians finally put pressure on the Europeans to not only preserve the agreement but in addition to compensate for the withdrawal of the United States, Europeans have the opportunity to put pressure on the Iranians at this stage to impose stricter conditions of the agreement and to add clauses on the ballistic program,” said Emmanuel Navon, professor of international relations at Tel Aviv University.
“Shame” for France
Another point of contention in perspective is the situation in the Gaza Strip.
For two months, demonstrations have been taking place in the Palestinian enclave along the separation barrier with Israel.
The Israeli army described them as riots and used live ammunition against the protesters, killing more than 100 people at the rallies. 62 of them were killed in a single day: May 14th. Acts described as “odious” by Emmanuel Macron.
On Friday, the UN Security Council had to vote on two opposing draft resolutions.
One, submitted by Kuwait, called for the establishment of international protection for Palestinian civilians.
The other, defended by the United States, condemned Hamas for firing a hundred rockets and mortar shells last week at Israeli territory.
“France finally voted for a text that condemns Israel and abstained on a text that condemns Hamas,” notes Frédérique Schillo, historian and author of La politique française vis à vis Israel.
“It is quite deplorable for the image of France in Israel and some, undoubtedly, will understand poorly this gesture,” she continues.
The Israeli vice minister in charge of diplomacy has also on Twitter estimated that this vote was “a shame” for France who supported there, in his eyes, a text “anti-Semitic”.
Ditch between Israel and Europe
But if France is criticized in Israel, the opposite is also true. Invited to the National Assembly in mid-May, the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, had been heard by members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And the discussions had been heated: Jean-Paul Lecoq, elected Communist, had accused Israel of being a “terrorist state”.
The visit of Benyamin Netanyahu in Paris is also stirring up: demonstrations are planned on Tuesday. Calls to cancel the France-Israel cross-season, a series of cultural and scientific exchanges that Emmanuel Macron and Benyamin Netanyahu will inaugurate on Tuesday, have been launched.
“We always need discussion and dialogue but on the condition of extreme firmness on the principles,” says Clementine Autain, member of France Insoumise.
For this, France is too conciliatory towards Israel: “We are facing a government that terrorizes the Palestinians, who kills them. Gazans are dying. We must now bang our fists on the table because this situation has been going on for too long. Netanyahu with Trump are destabilizing the entire region.”
Between the Iranian file, the military response to the demonstrations in Gaza, the constructions in the colonies, the subjects of tension between Israel and the European countries are not lacking. But even if Benyamin Netanyahu evoked an “important visit” to Europe, the Israeli government hardly conceals that the continent does not matter to him. “There is a country in the world with which we share the same values and the same interests: the United States of America and we are lucky that the strongest of the class is on our side,” says Yoav Gallant, former officer turned minister and now a member of the Israeli security cabinet.
“We will try to reduce the gap between Europe and us,” says the political leader. But Benyamin Netanyahu is not stingy with criticism of European countries.