Prime Minister Yair Lapid met Tuesday with his long-time friend French President Emmanuel Macron after landing in Paris for his first diplomatic visit as Israel's premier.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett scheduled the visit before the Israeli parliament dissolved last week. Lapid officially became prime minister on Friday and also retains his prior position as foreign minister.
At the start of the meeting in Paris, Macron said that he and Lapid would discuss talks with Iran aimed at reviving Tehran's nuclear agreement with the world powers, as well as negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to demarcate their shared maritime border. In addition, he called for renewed dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.
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"You know how connected I am to Lebanon," Macron said. "We must do everything to ensure that Israel and Lebanon reach an agreement."
Macron also mentioned the normalization agreements that Israel has signed with several Arab states and said that Israel's partnerships with Arab countries are "necessary," and that he is interested in having France lead these efforts.
Regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations, Macron said that Lapid's visit comes at a critical juncture. "We must start a dialogue between Israel and Palestine," he said, adding, "We are not turning a blind eye to the obstacles" involved in the process, "but we need to find a way."
Macron also congratulated Lapid on his premiership. "The citizens of Israel are lucky to have you. You will find a friend in Paris," he said. "You can trust France. We will always be with you."
Regarding the Iran nuclear accord, Lapid’s stance was expected to be in line with the Israeli position thus far, in opposing the agreement in its present form. Lapid would not oppose an improved deal, however, if one is presented.
Ahead of his flight to Paris, Lapid said it was crucial for the international community to know that "the Israeli public stands together on the matter of Iran," and that Israel's views on the "dangerous agreement," as he called it, need to be heard.
"Back in 2018, you were the first world leader to talk about the need for a new deal with Iran," Lapid told Macron after the two warmly embraced on the front steps of the Elysee presidential palace.
"You were right then, and you are even more right today," Lapid said, adding: "The current situation cannot continue as it is. It will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East which would threaten world peace."
Lapid and Macron were also expected to discuss the raising tensions with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite militia movement. On Saturday, Israeli aerial defense systems intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah at Israel's Karish gas rig in the Mediterranean, which Lebanon claims is in disputed territory.
As Lebanon's former colonial administrator, France has additional influence in Beirut.
Before his trip Lapid spoke of the unacceptable nature of such attacks. "The Lebanese government should keep Hezbollah under control ... or we will have to do it," Lapid told reporters ahead of his departure.
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Lapid was expected to present Macron with new information including “proof of the danger Hezbollah is posing to the security and wellbeing of Lebanon,” a senior diplomatic source said. The source added that “Hezbollah is playing with fire and trying to prevent us from reaching an agreement regarding the economic maritime boundary.”
For his part, Lapid warned that "Israel will not sit back and do nothing, given these repeated attacks."
The French government appears to be interested in the natural gas from the rig, which is to be liquefied, piped to Egypt and sold to Europe. Such supplies have added importance as Europe attempts to replace Russian gas following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
France also appears interested in the security aspects of ongoing negotiations between Israel and Lebanon regarding their economic maritime boundary.
The Paris visit was of political importance to Lapid, who decided to devote his first few weeks in office in part to a diplomatic agenda – in an effort to solidify his image as prime minister. Next week he will host U.S. President Joe Biden. He is also expected to attend a series of ceremonies and other events in the coming month.
With reporting by Reuters.