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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Israel Builds Case for Europeans to Accept Iran Nuclear Deal 'Fix'

By Michael Lipin February 17, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to use the West's pre-eminent annual security conference to argue for tougher Western action against Israel's regional rival, Iran.

Netanyahu is scheduled to make that case in a speech to global leaders and security officials at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.

As he left for Germany on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would present proof of Iran's involvement in a cross-border confrontation between Israel and Syria earlier this month — the most serious clash of its kind since Syria's civil war began in 2011. He also said he would reiterate Israel's determination to defend itself against any threat "without restriction."

Iran has denied Israel's assertion that an Iranian drone launched from Syria infiltrated Israeli airspace on February 10. Israel retaliated by carrying out airstrikes in Syria, triggering return fire from Syrian forces.

​Nuclear deal on agenda

Netanyahu also has joined a Trump administration campaign to press European powers to toughen the Iran nuclear deal that they and the previous Obama administration negotiated with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to European powers last month, saying he would pull out of the deal unless they agreed to new limits on Iran's nuclear and other activities by May 12.

Netanyahu backed the ultimatum. Israel fears the existing deal will enable Iran to quickly develop nuclear weapons when its limitations on Iranian uranium enrichment begin expiring in the 2020s.

Israeli leaders see a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat because of repeated calls by Iranian leaders for the destruction of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

Israel's ruling parliamentary coalition and main opposition party dismiss the Iranian assurances.

In an exclusive January interview with VOA's Persian service in Jerusalem, Israeli parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein said he was working constantly to keep Iran's nuclear ambitions on the international agenda.

"We are trying not to let the world believe that in the last couple of years, everything's already fine because a deal was signed and many important players — the United States, China, Russia and European Union — were all behind the deal," Edelstein said. "We have to provide information, and we know for a fact what the Iranians are up to." He said he would communicate that message to EU officials, whom he met in Brussels on Jan. 23.

Netanyahu's former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, also speaking to VOA Persian at his home in the central Israeli town of Ra'anana, said he believed European powers were receptive to Israeli concerns.

"The Europeans don't feel well with the fact that the Iranians continue to enhance their long-range missile capability," Amidror said. "They also know about terror organizations that the Iranians are building around the world. So they might say, 'OK, we think it's very bad to change the [nuclear] agreement,' but the circumstances might lead the Europeans to understand that there is a need to contain Iran, and the way to contain Iran is by cooperating with the U.S."

Iran denies supporting terror organizations, saying instead that it fights such groups in the region.

​Europe's alternate approach

EU officials so far have shown little sign of accepting U.S. demands for changes to the nuclear deal.

In remarks to the media Jan. 11, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said concerns about Iranian missiles and increasing regional tensions were outside the scope of the nuclear deal and should be resolved in other forums.

"The unity of the international community is essential to preserve a deal that is working, that is making the world safer and that is preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region," Mogherini said. "And we expect all parties to continue to fully implement this agreement."

In another VOA Persian interview in Tel Aviv, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, Efraim Halevy, said the EU was right to focus on preserving the nuclear deal, particularly through boosting trade ties with Iran.

"Economically, [the West should] open up areas of commerce, tourism, industry and communication [with Iran], in order to allow the Iranian public at large to benefit from the fruits of the agreement," Halevy said.

But with U.S. officials calling the agreement a "disaster," the Trump administration has said it is working with Britain, France and Germany to "fix" it by the May 12 deadline.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service.

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