Netanyahu Implicitly Rebukes France for Iran Talks During Tense Days

The French and Israel aren’t on the same page when it comes to Iran talks, Israeli flags. Illustrative.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and the Israeli premier took the opportunity to tell the French leader his view on France’s efforts to engage Iran in new negotiations over their nuclear program and regional tensions: Now is not the time.

A press release from Netanyahu’s office said he told Macron that “the present—when Iran is stepping up its aggression in the region—is precisely the wrong time to talk with Iran.”

The Netanyahu-Macron phone call came after the French met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and speculated about future talks including the United States. Macron, in a press conference with US President Donald Trump published to the White House website, said last week that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had met with Zarif and that “a roadmap has sort of been set, but nothing is absolutely set in stone. And we will have to move ahead together to find an outcome.”

Macron went on to posit the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which Trump expressed openness to do. Macron said if the two leaders could meet, “my conviction was that an agreement can be met. We know the terms, we know the objectives, but we have to just now sit around the table and make that happen. So I hope that in the next few weeks, based on our discussions, we will be able to achieve them.”

However, the timing for France’s diplomatic sit-down with Iran was problematic for many reasons. Not only has Iran recently responded to renewed US sanctions by advancing their nuclear program—highlighting the need for a new nuclear agreement—but the Islamic Republic has also attacked international oil shipping and the US and Iran have each destroyed a drone that belonged to the other. Furthermore, earlier this month and just days before Macron’s hopeful comments, Israel launched a preemptive strike in Syria to foil an Iranian drone attack against Israel. The Times in London further reported that Israel attacked machinery for making fuel for precision-guided missiles in Lebanon as well, disrupting another lethal threat from Iran.

The comments from Netanyahu’s office regarding last week’s call with Macron appeared to allude to those situations, with Netanyahu saying Israel would “defend itself against aggression against it and would prevent its enemies who seek its destruction from arming themselves with lethal weaponry.” He also “emphasized that those who provide shelter for aggression and arming will not be immune.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu was quoted by his office as saying in a ceremony to start the new school year that Israel would fight back against Iran as needed.

“You can negotiate with an enemy who has decided to stop being an enemy. We are always told ‘You make peace with an enemy.’ You make peace with an enemy who has decided to stop being an enemy,” said Netanyahu.

“But an enemy that continues to fight you, openly declares that he wants to destroy you, an enemy who wants to destroy you—there is only one way to deal with him: Those who rise up to kill you, you kill them first, and you deny them equilibrium-breaking weapons. This is what we are doing.”

Netanyahu noted that Iran’s threats against Israel range from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas in Gaza, as well as efforts to “entrench” in Syria and even in Iraq to “turn it into a launch pad for missiles and incursions against us.”

Netanyahu praised the Trump Administration for withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and highlighted their support or Israel’s right to defend itself—a right he warned he would use if necessary.

“I am not happy to engage because I know the price that we pay with the best of our sons, and sometimes our daughters but when it is necessary—we are not deterred,” said Netanyahu.

“I reiterate to our enemies, especially Iran—whoever comes to destroy us places himself in similar danger.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, September 1, 2019)

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