European Leaders Agree Iranian Forces Must Leave Syria, Israeli Officials Say as Netanyahu Wraps Up Tour

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Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, left, greets Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, ahead of their meeting at number 10 Downing Street on June 6, 2018.
Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, left, greets Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, ahead of their meeting at number 10 Downing Street on June 6, 2018.Credit: Bloomberg

LONDON - The night before his trip to Europe ends, political sources in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entourage said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May had agreed that Iranian forces should be removed from Syria and that the goal “had been significantly advanced.”

The sources said the three leaders also agreed to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency to examine the Iranian nuclear archive documents obtained by the Mossad. On the issue of the nuclear agreement, Netanyahu told them that even if Europe does not abandon it, it will collapse anyway because of the economic sanctions to be imposed by the United States. Netanyahu also spoke with the leaders about easing restrictions in the Gaza Strip.

The prime minister himself told a press conference, “I am finishing three days whose goal was to dismantle the Iranian presence in Syria. This was my main objective – to bring about an international agreement that Iran will leave Syria.”

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Of the Iran nuclear agreement, he said, “What would have happened if we hadn’t done anything? Within a short time, Iran could have activated hundreds of thousands of centrifuges and be in the zero range to breaking out to an arsenal of hundreds of atomic bombs. Since the nuclear agreement, Iran has received money to promote its entrenchment.  My goal was twofold: to prevent the nuclear program and to break the cash machine that finances this empire. We are already seeing signs of a credit crunch in Iran. My point was to harness the leading European countries to oppose Iran’s continued expansion. I also had other meetings with [U.S. President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin about this outcome.”

Asked what would happen if the agreement collapsed, he replied: “This also came up in our talks. Our goal is for Iran to cancel its nuclear program for military purposes . . . If Iran tries to move in the direction of a nuclear bomb, I have already announced that we will act so that Iran will not be able to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu added that he also spoke with the leaders about Gaza.

“The first thing I raised was their need to demand the return of our two soldiers and our two civilians,” he said.  “I told all three, Merkel, Macron and May. Even before we raise the humanitarian issue, we also have a humanitarian issue.”

On the issue of easing the situation in the Gaza Strip, he said: “We must put the issue to Hamas and [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], who are suffocating the Gaza Strip. I asked them: How you would stop an inflamed mob stampeding with terrorists who want to kill your people and abduct your soldiers? Tear gas does not work. What would you do? It’s different from a street demonstration in Chicago or London. This is a different kind of warfare. I told them about the burning fields and the fact that this is unbearable.”

He confirmed that the three had also raised the issue of the West Bank and the demolitions in Area C, which is under total Israeli control. “I do not think they have expectations about [Abbas]; they sometimes ask about one project or another and we tell them what guides us,” he said.

In response to the increasing number of reports about attempts in the U.S. Congress to endorse unilateral recognition of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, he said, “I say publicly and in endless meetings that I believe it must be recognized that the Golan will remain an inseparable part of Israel and recognize the de facto sovereignty, and the world should recognize it.”

Asked whether this wouldn’t increase the opposition to recognition of the Golan, as it did with Jerusalem, he said, “Regarding Jerusalem, it’s a process; there will be more embassies that will move; in the end, all of them [will].  It entails stages of opposition, but it’s going in the right direction.”

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