GLASGOW – The countries with bilateral relations with Iran need to take a stronger stance to pressure its new government, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told leaders he met at the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Monday and Tuesday, a diplomatic source said.
Bennett met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa on Tuesday. A day earlier, he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. He brought up Iran at every meeting.
One leader called Iran’s new ruling government “purely IRGC,” the diplomatic source said, referring to the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is a judge who oversaw death squads that executed thousands of Iranian dissidents, including women and children. He and 11 other of the Iranian cabinet’s 30 members have been sanctioned by the US, EU or UK for links to terrorism, human-rights violations and other crimes.
“Israel is standing before the world powers and saying you need to take a serious, unequivocal line, a tough stance against Iran in the [International Atomic Energy Agency], the UN Security Council and bilateral relations with the new government,” the diplomatic source said.
Bennett presented his stance to leaders that returning to the 2015 Iran deal – to which Johnson and Macron’s countries were a party – would involve removing sanctions from Iran, would lead to the newly freed funds going to increased regional aggression and would bring the opposite result of what they are seeking.
At the same time, Bennett said Israel is prepared to act against Iran independently if it needs to.
The leaders were interested in hearing how Bennett sees things, the diplomatic source said.
Israel’s COVID-19 response and the rollout of third vaccine doses was another topic that many leaders brought up when they encountered Bennett in his two days in Glasgow.
Johnson said he is looking to Israel to learn how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need everybody in our country to learn from the Israeli booster campaign and get their jab,” he said.
While the UK has begun administering booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Johnson said they need to try to move “at Israeli speed.”
“We need some of that spirit in the UK as well,” he said.
Johnson said he and Bennett had been in touch for months to talk about fighting COVID.
Israel’s vaccine rollout is “astonishing,” he said, adding that Israel “showed the whole world a pretty clean pair of heels” by running ahead of everyone.
Bennett congratulated Johnson for hosting the climate conference.
UK involvement was “instrumental” in helping Israel launch a new policy for climate change, he said.
“We have now changed our policy on this and for the first time in our history committed to zero emissions 2050, and we mean business,” Bennett said.
“I think you can do it faster, frankly,” Johnson said.
Bennett said Johnson is “a huge friend to Israel.”
The prime ministers also discussed plans for a future UK-Israel innovation conference.
Bennett also met with Modi and thanked him for being “the person who re-accelerated the relations between India and Israel.”
“I know it comes from the heart,” he said. “It’s not a matter of interests, but a deep belief that you hold, and we feel it. In the name of all citizens of Israel, we appreciate your new approach.”
Bennett and Modi discussed cooperation in the areas of green innovation, food technology, next-generation solar panels, cybersecurity and more, a diplomatic source said.
Bennett said the hi-tech company he ran 20 years ago was merged with an Indian company, and Israelis and Indians worked well together and have much to learn from one another.
“Our goal is to continue the wonderful path you led with my predecessor and bring it to a new level to ensure that both countries work together on innovation, technology, space, security, agriculture, food technology and, of course, climate technology,” he said.
Bennett also met Al Khalifa for the first time.
Al Khalifa told Bennett: “We must work toward a better future, and that’s what we look forward to doing.”
In response, Bennett said: “We ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Israel hopes to increase trade with Bahrain, a diplomatic source said after the meeting, and gets the sense that Manama wants a more robust and energetic partnership between the countries, following the Emirati mode.
The Palestinians did not come up at all in any of the meetings, according to the diplomatic source.
Bennett declined to respond to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh’s speech in which he said the “occupation of Palestine” was “the most critical long-term threat to the Palestinian environment.”
“We have nothing to say about those accusations,” the diplomatic source said. “We are not going to fight them in public because it would give importance to those words.”