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News Analysis: Israeli PM's Europe tour aims to rally support for tougher stance on Iran
From:Xinhua  |  2018-06-07 16:24

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by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, June 7 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meetings with European leaders this week posed an attempt to rally support for greater pressure against Israel's arch enemy Iran.

It was a tough task; impossible some may say.

He first met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then French President Emmanuel Macron, and finished the tour in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Netanyahu's visit comes after the United States announced last month their withdrawal from the nuclear deal Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Iran in 2015, which stipulated that Iran should curb its nuclear activities in return for a let-up on tough sanctions.

The Israeli prime minister aimed to crack the European wall of support for the deal, but the leaders were reluctant.

In a statement made by Merkel, she said "differences of opinion exist."

After U.S. President Donald Trump decided to abandon the deal, European leaders were quick to declare their continued support for it. Trump and Netanyahu have been largely isolated in their aversion for the JCPOA.

"Netanyahu is fighting a lost war," said Moshe Maoz, a professor at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has voiced his opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal from the beginning of the negotiations on it.

"He knows that he is not going to get support, but he is still trying to prevent salvaging of the deal," said Eran Ezion, former Deputy Head of Israel's National Security Council.

In their public statements together with the Israeli leader, both Macron and Merkel voiced their continued support for the nuclear deal, but there was willingness to discuss issues that are currently not part of it.

The JCPOA does not address Iranian ballistic missile capabilities, one of the core issues triggering accusations from the United States and Israel.

There has also been criticism about the "sunset" clauses set to end the restrictions on Iranian nuclear activity in 2025. Netanyahu believes Iran will be quick to produce a nuclear weapon at that point.

In addition, he wants the world to deal with an increasing Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria, a cause of great concern to Israel, which may earn some support from Europe.

Ezion said the Israeli prime minister set "a very high bar" on this topic, with Israeli media reporting the European position was moving towards him.

"He does not expect to have a significant effect in the course of one visit, that's not how diplomacy works," Ezion told Xinhua. "It's going to be a long battle ... these are critical moments."

After meeting the French president, Netanyahu clarified his position.

"I want to make it clear that I did not ask President Macron to leave the deal. I think that economic realities are going to decide this matter so it's not what we focus on actually. What we focus on, and what I focus on, is to stop Iranian aggression in the region," Netanyahu said.

"Netanyahu puts his trust mostly in the U.S.," Maoz said. "He wants to show the (Israeli) public that he is a world leader accepted by all these (European) leaders, its more PR (public relations) than something tangible ... an attempt to increase his popularity."

Whether Iran will agree to modifications of the JCPOA remains to be seen, but the newly imposed American sanctions may push them to concede on some matters.

However, Iranian rhetoric and actions parallel to the meetings in Europe spoke differently.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted just as Netanyahu began his tour that "Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor."

And Iran's nuclear chief has announced it will begin preparations to step up its uranium enrichment capacity within the limits allowed by the JCPOA.

With Israel believed to already possess a substantial nuclear arsenal, the Iranian aspirations do not bode well for the region.

"Eventually, there will be a balance of terror as between nuclear powers, we cannot stop it," said Maoz.

Ezion believes the remaining parties are "able to perpetuate the deal" and this is what Netanyahu is trying to avoid.

The result of his diplomatic efforts will be seen in the coming weeks.聽