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Israel PM talks Iran, Lebanon with Macron on first foreign trip

By AFP - Jul 05,2022 - Last updated at Jul 05,2022

France's President Emmanuel Macron (right) and Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid make a statement following a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

PARIS — Iran and its influence in the Middle East were high on the agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday in talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during his first trip abroad in office.

Lapid was also expected to ask for backing in a gas dispute with Lebanon that days ago saw Israel shoot down three drones launched by Hizbollah, which it says is largely Iran-financed.

Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government, which will see the country return to the polls in November for its fifth election in less than four years.

The new leader was confronted with his first test a day later, when Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement launched three drones towards an offshore gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Israel will not sit back given these repeated attacks,” Lapid told reporters in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace.

“Hizbollah is a terrorist organisation threatening Israel,” he said, adding that Hizbollah was “trying to attack us with Iranian rockets”.

Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim that the Karish gas field lies within its territorial waters.

Israel and Lebanon resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, though the Karish site sits outside of the disputed area and is marked as Israeli on previous United Nations maps.

The US-backed talks have been stalled by Beirut’s demand that the UN maps must be modified.

“We will ask France to intervene to secure the negotiations that we want to lead until the end of the gas issues,” an Israeli official told journalists travelling with the premier before his arrival in Paris.

Macron, at the news briefing, said both sides should “avoid any action” that could worsen relations between Israel and Lebanon.

Lapid reiterated Israel’s firm stance against international efforts to revive a nuclear accord with Tehran.

Acknowledging that France disagrees with that view, he said what was beyond dispute was that “Iran is violating the agreement and continues to develop its nuclear programme”.

Israeli officials fear that giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme could allow Tehran to boost funding to Hizbollah, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Macron, meanwhile, deplored that Iran “refuses to seize the opportunity offered to it to conclude a good agreement”, but said he would “make every effort” to make Tehran “see reason”.

Lapid’s Paris visit comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden travelling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, before flying to Saudi Arabia for energy talks.

Washington is seeking to stabilise the global energy market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led Moscow to cut its gas supplies to some European countries.

Israel and Egypt signed a deal last month to boost gas exports to the European Union, as the bloc attempts to end its dependency on Russian energy.

“The Lebanon issue is essential and Lapid will come back to the Israeli position, according to which Hizbollah is first and foremost a threat to the future of Lebanon,” said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war but agreed to talks aimed at delineating their maritime border to allow both countries to boost gas exploration.

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