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Israeli PM to push France on Iran, warn Hezbollah ‘playing with fire’

israel's interim pm yair lapid chairs cabinet meeting in jerusalem
Israel's former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid attend the first cabinet meeting after lawmakers dissolved the parliament, in Jerusalem July 3, 2022. Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via REUTERS

 Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that he will press French President Emmanuel Macron on the Iranian nuclear negotiations and urge a tougher Lebanese stance against Tehran-backed Hezbollah.

Lapid’s visit to France, his first abroad since becoming caretaker premier last week, is also a chance to flex diplomatic muscles as Israelis gear up for a snap election in November.

France is among world powers trying to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that the previous U.S. administration quit and which Israel opposed, deeming its caps insufficient.

“It is important our voice be heard at this time against this dangerous deal,” Lapid told reporters before boarding the plane to Paris where he was set to meet Macron.

A senior aide to Lapid said that while Israel opposes a return to the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal, it could accept a tougher accord.

“We do not oppose a deal. We seek a very strong deal,” the aide said. “We want an end to the unending talks,” the aide added, calling for “coordinated pressure” on Iran and offering help on “drafting an appropriate framework” for that.

Since the U.S. walkout, Iran has itself been in breach of the deal, ramping up projects with bomb-making potential – though it denies having such designs. Its technical advancements have set a ticking clock on the so-far fruitless negotiations.

Israel is not a party to the nuclear negotiations. But its worries about its arch-enemy and veiled threats to take preemptive military action if it deems diplomacy a dead end keep Western capitals attentive. It has a de facto front with Iran in Lebanon, home to Hezbollah.

As Lebanon’s former colonial administrator, France has additional clout in Beirut – whose economic crisis-hit leaders were jarred on Saturday when Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones launched toward one of its Mediterranean gas rigs.

“Lebanon’s government must curb such attacks by Hezbollah – or else we shall be forced to do so,” Lapid said. His aide said Hezbollah was “playing with fire”.

The Karish rig near Lebanon’s coast will produce gas not only for Israel, but eventually also for the European Union, the official said, tapping into EU countries’ quest to replace Russia as an energy supplier since it invaded Ukraine.

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