SYDNEY – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the 11 Australian ministers he met with on Thursday – the equivalent of Israel’s security cabinet – to take a more aggressive position toward Iran. With this message, Netanyahu continued lobbying efforts on the matter he began in London just over two weeks ago when he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal championed by former US president Barack Obama, Australia was among the countries that began a normalization process with Tehran. With President Donald Trump opposed to the agreement and using much more aggressive rhetoric when talking about the Iranians, Netanyahu is trying to get allies to pull back from the normalization process.
There is a degree of openness to this, one senior diplomatic official said, but it is still a “work in progress.”
Meanwhile Netanyahu, in his meetings with various Australian leaders, continued to speak out against the 2015 deal, saying that it “allows no bombs today, but a hundred bombs a decade from now.”
Iran’s presence in Syria, according to diplomatic officials, will be at the top of the agenda when the premier travels to Russia in some two weeks for a oneday visit to meet with President Vladimir Putin.
One of the issues Netanyahu is expected to raise with Putin is the “formalization” of concessions that Syrian President Bashar Assad has given the Islamic Republic that could bring Iranian forces – and not just proxies such as Hezbollah – directly to Israel’s borders.
This, the official said, “very much troubles us.”
During the meeting with the Australian cabinet ministers, discussions also centered on how to increase security cooperation between Jerusalem and Canberra.
To facilitate this process, Defense Ministry director- general Udi Adam is scheduled to hold talks in Australia in June. And then, before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is scheduled to visit Israel at the end of October to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, a delegation from the Australian Defense Ministry is scheduled to hold talks in Israel.
Australia, increasingly alarmed by signs of growing Islamic radicalism in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia, is expected to spend $25 billion to upgrade its military capabilities over the next few years.
Netanyahu is scheduled on Friday to meet with Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, whom he met in Jerusalem just over a month ago.
Just as inside the US Democratic Party, there is a growing faction on the Australian Left that is increasingly pro-Palestinian and critical of Israel inside Australia’s Labor Party.
Israel, according to diplomatic officials, is keen on retaining good relations with the Labor Party, to keep the element very critical of Israel from growing and to maintain support for Israel among both of Australia’s main parties, Labor and the governing Liberal Party.
Shorten gave a strong pro-Israel address on Wednesday at a luncheon with Netanyahu, Turnbull and 400 Israeli and Australian businessmen.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Arab countries not to be enticed by Israeli attempts to find allies in the Arab world.
Speaking at a conference in Tehran focused on Iranian support for the Palestinians, Rouhani said, “The occupying regime, in an attempt to normalize its situation, has for the first time referred to certain Arab countries as its allies against the resistance front, instead of describing them as its enemies.”
Rouhani asked Arab countries to be vigilant in the face of what he referred to as Israeli “plots.” The Iranian leader called on the Muslim world to make a clear statement against Israeli efforts to normalize relations with the Arab world, according to Press TV.Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.