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Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear programme but shadowed by an upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear programme”.

Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.

The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict in the hope of a more confrontational Western position towards Iran.

By “playing the Ukraine card”, Netanyahu hopes to “consolidate an anti-Iranian front” with the West, said David Khalfa of Paris-based think tank Fondation Jean Jaures.

He hopes for “increased sanctions against Tehran and the full addition of the Revolutionary Guards to the list” of sanctioned entities, Khalfa added — a step both France and Germany have so far resisted.

Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely aimed at generating energy.

Siding with Ukraine is not without risk for Netanyahu, as Russian air defences deployed in neighbouring Syria could be turned against Israeli aircraft who carry out occasional raids on Iranian interests there.

France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, saying its nuclear programme has reached “a dangerous point” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.

– ‘Firmness’ with Iran –

Tehran also holds several foreign citizens who Western governments see as political hostages.

Netanyahu’s visit comes after a drone attack at the weekend on a defence ministry facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan which Tehran has blamed on Israel.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, have said that the attack was carried out by Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad, although this has not been confirmed by Israel.

Macron’s office said the French leader would also “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism”.

Netanyahu visits as fresh violence has intensified between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip early Thursday, drawing retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian missiles.

A week ago, a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people outside a synagogue in an Israeli settler neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem.

It was the deadliest attack targeting Israeli civilians in more than a decade and came one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.

No press conference is planned around the Macron-Netanyahu dinner starting at 1900 GMT at the French president’s Elysee Palace office.

Staying in France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.

Judicial reforms planned by the prime minister’s latest coalition of right, far right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties have raised the hackles of some businesspeople, notably in the financial sector, who have threatened to quit Israel.