Netanyahu to Merkel: Hamas Attacks Israel Because Abbas Suffocates Gaza

German leader expresses concern over Israel's contentious nation-state law: 'Minorities have rights, too' ■ Netanyahu says Iran's aggression stems from European support, reiterates need to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands during a joint press conference at a hotel in Jerusalem, Israel, October 4, 2018.
AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday that Israel's response to an attack by Hamas would be "very harsh."

"In the last year Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] has made the situation in Gaza more difficult by choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza," Netanyahu said.

"As a result of this chokehold, pressures have been created there and as a result of the pressures, from time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity but the chokehold is tightening," Netanyahu continued.

According to the prime minister, Abbas "has interfered in all UN attempts to ease the plight in Gaza, including now" and many countries rightfully condemn the Palestinian preisdent for this.

"If Hamas thinks that as a result of this plight it can attack Israel – it will be making a very major mistake. Our response will be harsh, very harsh," Netanyahu warned.

Touching upon Iran, Netanyahu told Merkel that Tehran's aggression stems from European support.

Netanyahu reiterated the need to put a stop to Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying that the world must defeat "the forces that want to drag us into the past." European countries are sending money to Iran, Netanyahu said, and instead of helping the citizens, the government uses to the money to advance its military capabilities.

"Iran's aggressive activity also extends to Europe. I spoke about the fact that Israeli intelligence gave European services the information that Iran's services were planting, planning in Europe by Iranian diplomats, Iranian officials, terrorist attacks on the soil of Europe," Netanyahu said, commending France for freezing assets related to Iranian intelligence officials over a foiled terrorist attack it said was orchestrated by Iran.

"All nations must join together to press the Iranian regime to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program. They're still trying to hide, I exposed some of that in the UN," Netanyahu said. During his address at the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu revealed a secret Iranian nuclear storage facility in Tehran.

Netanyahu also addressed Iran's military entrenchment in Syria and vowed to "continue to block Iran's efforts to use Syria and Lebanon as forward bases for attacking Israel."

The prime minister noted the warming in relations between Israel and Arab states and said "this new relationship is a great hope for the future because I think that it paves the way for peace" – also with the Palestinians. Netanyahu did, however, call on the world to tell the Palestinians to "cease what you're doing. Especially the chocking of Gaza right now which could lead to very difficult consequences."

For her part, Merkel reaffirmed her support for a two-state solution and concern about Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. Such activity, she said, "makes the two-state solution difficult to achieve." 

Merkel said that Netanyahu urged Germany to encourage the Palestinians to return to negotiations that collapsed in 2014, adding: "I will do this." There were no plans for Merkel to see Palestinian leaders during her brief visit. 

Regarding the Iranian issue, Merkel said, "We are very convinced and strongly share Israel's position that everything must be done to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Where we are not always united is on the path to this goal."

Responding to a question about Israel's contentious nation-state law, Merkel said, "this worries me. We support the Jewish state but minorities have rights too." Merkel added that Germany "supports the Jewish state" and if there is peace, the Palestinians will have to recognize the Jewish state, too.

Both leaders praised the economic cooperation between the two countries and pledged to deepen them. The cooperation between Israel and Germany, Netanyahu added, "shows us how you can turn history into a better future for the entire world." 

Earlier Thursday, Merkel met with President Reuven Rivlin, who expressed concern over a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe. The two met at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on the second day of Merkel's two-day visit in Israel. 

“A new breed of anti-Semitism is rising in Europe. This time, it takes the form of right-wing nationalist politics with roots in Nazism and it is gaining momentum across the continent," Rivlin told Merkel. "Some of these people appear to support Israel, but hate Jews. There should be no misunderstanding. There is no such thing as loving Israel and hating Jews.”

Reuters contributed to this report.