Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed French President Francois Hollande to Israel, lauding France’s tough stance in talks with Iran while describing his own role as protecting the Jewish state from annihilation.
“The burden is on my shoulders,” Netanyahu said at a joint news conference yesterday at his Jerusalem residence. “It’s my duty to prevent anyone from credibly threatening or executing another Holocaust against the Jewish people.”
World powers, led by President Barack Obama, have offered Iran some relief on sanctions in exchange for progress in nuclear talks in Geneva scheduled to resume Nov. 20. Netanyahu contends tougher sanctions would wrest greater concessions from Iran and has railed repeatedly against the proposal, yesterday saying “Iran’s dream is the world’s nightmare.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius undercut a potential accord by insisting construction be halted on a heavy-water reactor that can produce plutonium, a material that can be used for weapons.
Hollande, on his first presidential visit to Israel, said France will insist on a “serious, solid, credible agreement” in order to “guarantee regional peace and struggle against nuclear weapons proliferation,” according to a Hebrew translation on state television.
“We won’t allow anything that is liable to generate doubts about Iran’s intentions,” the French president said. Netanyahu has criticized the proposal for not requiring Iran to give up its uranium enrichment or plutonium operations, and at the news conference with Hollande said he was “gravely concerned that this deal will go through.”
Netanyahu travels to Russia Nov. 20 to discuss the Iran deal with President Vladimir Putin, then returns to Jerusalem to talk with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Nov. 22.
“France will not tolerate nuclear proliferation,” Hollande said at a brief welcome ceremony. “As long as we are not certain that Iran has decided to give up on nuclear weapons, we will continue with all our demands and with sanctions.” Netanyahu praised France’s “firm stance.”
Iran is negotiating with a group known as the P5+1, made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- plus Germany.
The Islamic Republic was offered a temporary easing of existing sanctions on petrochemicals, gold and auto trade and some access to frozen assets, according to diplomats who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to comment.
A partial easing of sanctions would water down Iran’s incentive to curtail its nuclear program further, Netanyahu said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast yesterday.
“You’re going to get investors, companies and countries scrambling one after the other to try to get deals with Iran, because economies and prices work on future expectations,” he said.
While Netanyahu has talked about taking military action against Iran, he said he prefers a diplomatic solution.
“Israel has the most to gain from a peaceful diplomatic solution, because we’re on the firing line, any way you look at it,” he told CNN. “So we need a good solution.”
Amid the spiraling rhetoric, chances of an Israeli strike to halt Iran’s nuclear program aren’t high, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Netanyahu’s comments are “more about diplomatic positioning than imminent attack,” Spyer said. “There has been a dictum in Israeli security that Israel doesn’t go to war unless it has one serious global power behind it, and right now that wouldn’t be the case.”
The U.S. and Israel say uranium enrichment in Iran and the construction of a reactor capable of producing plutonium would help the nation to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful medical and energy uses.
Israel isn’t alone in its concern over the developing deal in Geneva, according to the Sunday Times. The U.K. newspaper yesterday reported Saudi Arabia is working with the Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency on a contingency plan for a possible attack on Iran if the nuclear program isn’t significantly curbed.
The government in Riyadh gave the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran, the Sunday Times said, citing an unidentified diplomatic source. The prime minister’s office had no comment.
While an attack on Iran may not be imminent, the possibility “shouldn’t be dismissed and notice should be taken of the gap between U.S. thinking and the thinking of its two most important regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Spyer said.