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Ahead of Vienna meeting, Israel’s Lapid multiplies efforts against Iran

Preparing for the United States resuming talks on Iran Nov. 29, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his team are active in Brussels, Paris and Washington to advance Israeli positions.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid appears at a news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the State Department in Washington, DC on October 13, 2021.

Alon Ushpiz, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, visited Brussels Nov. 10, meeting with European Commission leaders, representatives of the 27 member states and high officials in NATO, including Secretary-General of the European Union External Action Service Stefano Sannino and Secretary-General of the European Parliament Klaus Welle.

Ushpiz was following up on the July 12 visit there by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who participated as guest at the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union. Both visits were designed to relaunch and reshape relations between Israel and the European Union in general, but also to advocate in particular for the Israeli position on talks with Iran. This was true especially for the meetings of Ushpiz in Brussels, in view of the upcoming Nov. 29 convening of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors and resumption of negotiations with Iran for a possible new nuclear deal. A statement by the Foreign Ministry said Ushpiz had told his interlocutors in Brussels that Iran is advancing toward nuclear weapon capabilities every day, and warned that now is the time to stop Iran's nuclear program.

According to Israeli estimates, France is the main engine behind the European input and policies on the Iranian nuclear issue. As such, Jerusalem follows closely on the relevant contacts between Washington and Paris. These include, for instance, a phone call Nov. 13 between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian. Israeli diplomats and other Israeli senior officials are in constant contact with their French counterparts, to explain to them Jerusalem’s stance against a possible new deal with Iran. They are now mostly interested in verifying reports that France is getting closer to the United States in its Iran-talks positions.

Foreign Minister Lapid prides himself on maintaining warm relations with French President Emmanuel Macron. Nevertheless, since nominated to his position, Lapid has visited Washington, Brussels and Rome, but did not go to Paris. Why does Israeli leadership focus its diplomatic attention on Brussels rather than on Paris? Evidently, the NSO affair and ensuing diplomatic and security tensions with France have complicated to some degree at least the political dialogue between the two countries. Both countries advance toward resolving it, but it’s not a done deal yet.

The Israeli Embassy in Paris has been functioning for a long time without an ambassador. This is due mostly to internal Israeli politics, not to bilateral ties with France. But the situation has become even more complicated, with the Iranian file becoming more and more pressing. And so, it is no wonder that the ministry had sent to Paris Ronit Ben Dor as the new charge d’affairs. Ben Dor is a highly experienced diplomat who knows the French capital and its power hubs all too well from a previous posting, and is an expert on strategic affairs. That being said, Yael German’s nomination as Israel’s new ambassador to Paris should be approved by the government in the coming days, so she will probably arrive to Paris at the latest by the beginning of 2022. A close associate of Lapid, German is expected to serve as a direct channel between him and the Elysee Palace, including on the Iranian file.

While working on the European front over Iran, Lapid does not abandon the American one. Contrary to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who refused to meet Nov. 15 with the American envoy on Iran Robert Malley, Lapid agreed to see him. Lapid, it was reported, saw the meeting with Malley as an opportunity to express Israeli concerns, reiterating Israel’s assessment that Iran plans using negotiations in Vienna and afterward to draw out more time as it continues to advance its nuclear program toward breakout.

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