Israel ‘ s ambassador to France believes that the threat Iran poses to the Middle East brings the Hebrew state closer to the petro-monarchies.
Iran far more dangerous for Israel than Palestine? Before the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu devoted most of his speech to the threat that the Islamic Republic would pose to the Jewish state. Waving a sign with photos of the outside of a “secret atomic storage site” in Tehran, he said, to house “300 tons of nuclear-related materials,” the Israeli prime minister assured that the Iranian leaders “have not abandoned their goal of developing nuclear weapons” despite the signing in 2015 of the Iranian nuclear deal, which has since been denounced by Donald Trump’s United States.
Yet, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which depends on the United Nations, has always certified since Iran’s compliance with its commitments. On August 30, the IAEA said in a report that it had access to “all the sites and locations in Iran it wanted” to inspect.
Ambassador of Israel in France and Monaco, Aliza Bin-Noun explains to Point the threat that, according to her, represents the activities of Iran in the Middle East, and also describes the state of the relationship between the Hebrew State and Paris.
Why did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reserve the majority of his UN platform for Iran?
Aliza Bin-Noun: It must be understood that today the great threat to Israel is Iran. This is really the big challenge and the big threat we face. It has been several years since the Iranians are strengthening in Syria in the context of the civil war. The drones they launched last February on Israel were a first. All of this shows their commitment to the region. Iran has hegemonic aspirations in the Gulf, Yemen, Lebanon via Hezbollah and its 150,000 missiles, some targeted by Israel, as well as in the Gaza Strip. In recent years, links between the Islamic Republic and Hamas have been strengthened. And we Israelis are at the center of this picture. All of this reflects Iran’s involvement in the Middle East in terms of support for terrorism, nuclear issues, ballistic missiles, and frequent Iranian statements against Israel.
Is Iran an existential threat or a strategic rival for Israel?
These two aspects are related. Iran regularly threatens Israel, which can not be ignored. A year ago, the Iranians wrote in Hebrew on one of their missiles (during a military parade in Tehran) that Israel was to be destroyed, and we take these kinds of statements very seriously. So things are very clear. We have already experienced in the history of this type of ads in relation to the Jewish people. In addition, Iran is strengthening in the region in order to export its Islamic revolution, which is the raison d’être of this regime. We can not separate the two. On the one hand, yes, Iran is an existential threat because it calls for the destruction of Israel, and on the other hand, it is taking concrete action on the ground.
In recent months, Israel has increased its so-called “pre-emptive” strikes against the Iranian bases in Syria, causing dozens of deaths, without suffering widespread retaliation from Tehran. Can the situation escalate?
Listen, Israel has no interest in meddling in Syrian politics, but we have three red lines: the delivery of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah or Syria, which threatens Israel; Iran’s attempts to strengthen itself near our border; and the exchange of fire from Syrian territory to Israel. In each case, Israel reacts. These Israeli preventive measures are aimed once again at not letting the Iranians grow stronger. We can not wait until they have become so strong that they decide to take more significant action against us.
On the management of the Iranian threat, however, there are discrepancies between the analyzes of Israeli security officials, much more cautious, and those of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
These differences of opinion are part of the democratic debate. But I remind you: what matters is the Prime Minister’s position. In Israel, as in every democratic country, decisions are made by the government, which has been democratically elected and represents the majority of the Israeli population. And the will of peace of the Israeli people, which may have existed 25 years ago, is changing. Because what is influencing public opinion, which is more right now than in the past, are the threats to its security: extremist elements like Iran and its avatars – Hezbollah and Hamas – as well as incitement to hatred and terrorist acts on the Palestinian side, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, supports the families of terrorists. This trend also exists in Europe.
France has recently foiled an attempt to attack Villepinte against the Mujahideen of the Iranian people. Is it true that it was the Israeli intelligence services that warned Paris?
I can not get into these topics because it’s not my area. Now, I can tell you that there is a very good link between France and Israel in the field of intelligence, information sharing, cooperation, and counterterrorism.
Israel was one of the few countries to welcome the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, which was, so far, the best way to ensure that Iran would not get the bomb. What are you planning now?
This is neither our feeling nor our position. For us, it is very important to continue to press Iran on the nuclear issue to dissuade the Iranians from continuing their program. Because Iran has lied about its commitment on this issue, and there is today in the world a consensus on it. This was proven in particular on the occasion of our discovery a few months ago in Iran, after an operation of Mossad (the Israeli secret services, Ed), many files that we recovered.
But has the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not repeated since 2015 that Iran is honoring its commitments?
Yes, but despite the agreement, there are places in the country to which the Iranians have not allowed access. This is exactly what Prime Minister Netanyahu has mentioned on several occasions at the UN forum. He asked the IAEA to go there to investigate.
Your demands seem to be limited to Iran’s nuclear, while Donald Trump would like a broader deal, including the limitation of the Iranian missile program and Iran’s “interference” in the Middle East.
Not at all. We also say that we have to deal with other issues, such as ballistics. The problem is that the Iranians do not see any concern in their ballistic program or their support for terrorist elements in the region.
Iran was also the victim of a terrorist act 10 days ago claimed by the Islamic State. Do you understand the security needs put forward by Tehran?
No, because I see that Iran remains the most aggressive element in the region. It is enough to take a look at the positions of the Gulf countries, which are clearly opposed to Iran, to understand who is the culprit here, who has a hegemonic and expansionist aspiration. It’s based on facts, not statements.
Indeed, today we are talking about an objective alliance between the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Is it sustainable?
It is necessary to recall that there is no diplomatic relationship between Israel and the Gulf countries. In recent years, because of the Iranian threat, there is a clear convergence of interests between our countries to face this challenge. Because the enemy who threatens the region, these countries, as well as Israel, is Iran. And I hope that will move forward in the future. There are small signs. For example, an official delegation from Bahrain visited Israel a few months ago. She wandered to Jerusalem, and even gave an interview to an Israeli television channel. It was something remarkable.
Is the Israeli will, as some members of the Trump administration want, to overthrow the Iranian regime?
This question was asked a few days ago by your CNN colleagues to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He replied that he thought that no one would cry if this regime changed. And it is obvious: this regime is positioned very hostile vis-à-vis Israel, but also the United States and the Gulf countries.
You said that Europeans were not neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is this your opinion concerning France?
I think the French and the Israelis have similar interests in the Middle East. We all want to live in peace and security. With regard to Israel, President Macron still mentions France’s commitment to our security, and repeats that he is always ready to do everything possible to improve the situation (in the Middle East, Ed) . On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a good dialogue between us, even if we do not always agree.
Emmanuel Macron recently condemned the continuation of Israeli colonization. Do you understand?
We do not agree on that. We are expressing ourselves in relation to this policy, which is not something new. We actually agree that we do not agree on a series of topics, of which this one is a part. But we must also see what is the best way to improve the situation. This is why we must always dialogue and have direct exchanges between the Palestinians and us. For it is only through direct dialogue, and with a real willingness on both sides to achieve peace, that we will get there.
The French president spoke of a connection last year between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Does this mean that we can no longer criticize Israel’s policy in France?
Not at all. That’s not what he said and what we say. Criticism is something legitimate. We can criticize, it’s part of our values, our way of life, our behavior. The biggest critics of the Israeli government’s position are the Israelis. Criticism is always legitimate. But the question is the border between a criticism that is legitimate and anti-Semitism that denies Israel’s right to exist as a country. Thus, anti-Zionism is sometimes linked to anti-Semitism.
Is not it dangerous to make this amalgam?
This amalgam exists in some people. Recently, the Malaysian president granted an interview in which he mixed anti-Semitic elements – he spoke of the nose of Jews, Jews and money – and commented on the State of Israel and Zionism. We do not always make the difference between legitimate criticism and antisemitic statements. When the BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement) calls for a boycott of Israel, it is not just an anti-Zionist position. Indeed, if one examines their behavior, their statements and their positions, one can sometimes notice a link between their position in relation to Israel and the Jewish people.
Is there not a paradox for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sometimes show up with European heads of government suspected of anti-Semitism, like the Hungarian Viktor Orbán?
I personally know Viktor Orbán for having been ambassador to Hungary for four years, between 2006 and 2011, and I do not agree that he is anti-Semitic. It is true, however, that there are great problems of anti-Semitism in Hungary, against which Israel rises every time. The subject of anti-Semitism and Jewish communities in Europe and around the world is a very important issue for Israelis in general and for the government in particular. Now, for Israel, Hungary is a country that is part of the European Union, and it is in the context of Israel’s relations with the European Union that these meetings take place. Life is not white or black: there is gray. These countries, like Hungary or Poland, have good relations with Israel and develop good cooperation with us.