Europe's role

A good run of meetings in Europe that would see Netanyahu voicing his concerns in a direct and friendly manner has the potential to produce effective results.

June 1, 2018 01:51
3 minute read.
Israeli PM Netanyahu and German Chancellor Merkel address a news conference

Israeli PM Netanyahu and German Chancellor Merkel address a news conference. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)

On Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to travel to Europe for a series of high-level meetings with the leaders of France, Germany and the UK.

The visit comes days after the latest escalation in Gaza, which saw the most intense Israeli-Palestinian violence since the end of Operation Protective edge in 2014. But the main point of the meetings is to bring Israel’s European allies over to the country’s way of thinking on countering Iran.

“Next week I am going to Germany, France and Britain. I will meet with Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and Prime Minister May. I will present them with the latest strategic developments in our region, which are connected to the efforts to halt Iranian aggression in Syria and elsewhere. We will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

We will continue to act against its intention to establish a military presence in Syria opposite us, not just opposite the Golan Heights but anywhere in Syria,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday.

The last point in his statement refers to the reported agreement reached between Jerusalem and Moscow this week that would see Iranian forces removed from southern Syria in return for Israel laying off strikes on Syrian facilities there.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed that Iran exiting southern Syria is not enough, and that the Islamic Republic and its proxies should depart the country entirely. That demand goes well beyond what the Russians have signaled. However, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who traveled to Moscow Thursday to meet with his Russian counterpart, will try to move the dial in Israel’s direction.

Israel has been riding high when it comes to Iran for the last couple of months. A series of high-profile successes, including: the revelation of a major heist by the Mossad to snatch Iran’s nuclear program archives; US President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the flawed Iran nuclear pact as Israel had long advocated; and a string of successful strikes against Iranian targets in Syria (some even confirmed by Israeli leaders), all have Netanyahu and his government feeling pretty confident.

That confidence, though justly earned, should not swell to cockiness or complacency.

Israel needs and will always need friends. The more the better. As supportive as the Trump administration has been of Israel, it is unwise to put all of Israel’s diplomatic eggs in one basket. True, Israel has expanded its reach in Eastern Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, but it’s mostly been on the commercial side, with relatively little diplomatic windfall so far. Netanyahu boasts of inroads in moderate Arab states, but those have yet to realize their full potential.

That leaves our allies in Western Europe.

Last week we warned against antagonizing friends, as minister Yuval Steinitz did when he told the European Union to “go to a thousand hells.”

Netanyahu, a seasoned and skillful diplomat, will surely not make the same mistake and will, hopefully, seek to ease the sting of the slap that one of his ministers delivered.

France, Germany and the UK are important players on the international scene. They are signatories of the Iran P5+1 deal, which Israel would still like to influence if it’s not scrapped entirely. They are major trade partners. They cooperate with us on intelligence and defense. And though it’s sometimes difficult to see, they are generally sympathetic to our concerns.

Europe, too, needs to recognize the stark reality in the Middle East. Iran needs to be countered and Hamas needs to feel more isolated. It is important that the leaders Netanyahu meets next week be firm and unequivocal in their opposition to Iran’s regional ambitions, as well as to what Hamas is doing in Gaza.

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret condemned the Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on Israel this week, tweeting, “Indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly.”

That statement underscores the fact that even though Israel and Europe often do not see eye-to-eye, there are common values they share. A good run of meetings that would see Netanyahu voicing his concerns in a direct and friendly manner has the potential to produce effective results.

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