Israel's Missed Opportunity in France (Arutz Sheva)

Minister of Intelligence and Nuclear Affairs Yuval Steinitz has just wrapped up an urgent two-day trip to France in order to bring Paris closer to the Israeli position in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. What exactly Steinitz discussed is not clear to the media, but he left his meetings pessimistic that he could not stop a “bad deal.” At the same time, French leaders reiterated they saw Israeli positions as “unrealistic.”
While the rhetoric seems to match American statements, it could be that France is simply in between the very lenient positions of the United States and what some might call particularly strict demands of Israel. According to Israel’s former Ambassador to France, Freddy Eytan, the French have a very different view of Iran than is popular in today’s White House.
“France is tougher than the Americans. They don’t want nuclear proliferation in the Middle East: from Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Egypt.”
France has a long history of investment in Middle East nuclear power. It was Paris that built the Osirak reactor for Iraq that Menachem Begin ordered destroyed in 1981. At this point however, the French are much more wary of nuclear power infrastructure being exploited for military purposes.
Eytan guesses a likely topic of discussion is the maintenance of sanctions on Iran, which the French have been more demanding about than the Americans.
“I think this is the task of Steinitz, to emphasize that sanctions can only be pulled after the fact.”
“Sanctions cannot be lifted with any guarantees from the Iranians and we are certain they don’t have too many centrifuges in place. We prefer to continue the sanctions and not relieve them as the Americans want.”
In general, Eytan feels that Israel has dropped the ball though on relations with France. This recent trip might show less daylight between the French and Israeli positions and some more cooperation than Israel is apparently getting out of the Obama Administration, but there are some gaps in Israel’s approach to Paris.
For one says Eytan, Israel does not appreciate the current or potential role France has in the Middle East. In an editorial last October, Eytan levels then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for neglecting to push the Israeli narrative among Frenchmen.
“I criticized him because I think he neglects France’s role in the Middle East. France can support us (more).”
The Ambassador is quick to mention that the French position on the Palestinians might be more intractable, but certainly not when it comes to things like Iran. He cites French enthusiasm to bring the PLO into the political process and embracing Yasser Arafat in order to do that.
“There are differences between the Palestinian issue and the Iranian issue. We cannot influence them on the former given the long (diplomatic) history between France and the Palestinians.”
Yet the biggest issue for Eytan is the fact Israel’s most recent appointee to Paris, Yossi Gal, does not even speak fluent French.
“We’ve got to explain (our position) to France and cannot have an ambassador in Paris who cannot explain (them) in French! It is not good for our public relations.”
The candidate was also, perhaps obviously, not intimate with the details of French politics, history or culture when she was nominated. But Mr. Eytan also feels that this is a problem in other parts of the Foreign Ministry. Other key staff in the ministry are not fluent in critical languages. Eytan excuses the lack of certain languages which might be becoming more critical, but he says there is no real justification not to have a basic hold on the mother language of the country where you are serving.
“You cannot speak to the French in English or Hebrew. The media in these countries do not always use subtitles.”
“You have to explain it in their terms and in their language, very simply and very quickly. We have arguments. We have strong arguments to explain our policy, but we do not have enough professional diplomats in Europe.”
Eytan notes, as do other observers, that there is an opportunity to reach out to certain parties on the center-right of the European political spectrum, particularly the party of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy sees Israel as part of a family of democracies part of the Western world.
Sarkozy won election as the head of his UMP Party last year, and has since been a vocal supporter of Israeli security in public appearances.
“I will fight for the Palestinians to have their state. But unilateral recognition a few days after a deadly attack and when there is no peace process? No!” said Sarkozy last September.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization from the point of view of European countries,” says Eytan, but notes that Abbas is still the person that is justifying Netanyahu’s more public reluctance toward a Two State Solution. “‘We cannot sign an agreement (of any kind) if the Palestinian Authority is still linked to Hamas. They cannot have two leaders.’ We have to communicate this. We can accept an agreement, but not a ‘treaty’ and not a state.”