Rivlin with Macron
Rivlin with Macron Haim Zach, GPO

President Reuven Rivlin met today, Wednesday, with his counterpart President Macron of France at the Elysée Palace. During their meeting President Rivlin thanked President Macron for his warm welcome and personal friendship and invited him to visit Israel soon. The president noted that his visit was to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, a sign of the shared democratic values and the common interests which we intend to further deepen.

The meeting focused on the threat from Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. Ahead of President Macron’s upcoming visit to Lebanon, scheduled for early February, President Rivlin stressed that the Lebanese state was being held hostage by a terrorist organization, Hezbollah, supported by Iran.

The president emphasized that we have no desire for conflict with Lebanon and that in an ideal world there could be good relations between the two countries, but that we cannot ignore the continued Lebanese violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the arming of Hezbollah with guided weapons. “Hezbollah is creating facilities to produce and convert precision-guided missiles in the heart of Beirut under civilian cover and with Iranian support,” said the president to President Macron, adding “this threatens Israeli security and could force us to respond, dragging the region into escalation that could badly harm Lebanon.”

The president emphasized that, as the sovereign power, it is the Lebanese government that bears sole responsibility for what happens in its country and that Israel does not distinguish between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state. He added that “I expect France to exert whatever pressure necessary on the Lebanese government to display its sovereignty and rid itself of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement that could lead us to war.”

Regarding the situation in Syria, the president said that Israel will not allow the build-up of Iranian presence in Syria which represents a direct threat to Israel and the entire region. “So long as Iran and its proxies continue to establish their presence, Israel will act to defend its security, including acting against the transfer of advanced armaments from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.” The president said that it removing Iran from Syria was a shared international interest in pursuit of regional stability.

Concerning events in Gaza, the president made it clear that the State of Israel is making all efforts possible to promote contacts to de-escalate the situation and civil-economic initiatives with Gaza to prevent a humanitarian crisis and give the people of Gaza hope. “Israel is not interested in escalation,” emphasized the president, “but will not allow its sovereignty, the security of its civilians or its infrastructure to be harmed, and will act decisively against any threat,” he added. The president asked for France’s help in returning the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin ז"ל, and the two Israeli citizens held in Gaza. “This is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and Hamas does not even allow the Red Cross to visit,” said the president.

At the end of the bilateral meeting, both presidents gave statements to the press:

President Rivlin thanked President Macron for his hospitality and stressed the partnership between the two countries: “Israel and France stand together at the forefront of the fight against terrorism around the world. The deep cooperation between us is a vital force multiplier in this global effort. Just recently this cooperation prevented an attempted attack here in Paris. It is important that we deepen and broaden the partnership, which protects our shared values, between us.”

“Today, it is the Iranian regime and its proxies that are the key source of instability and proliferation of terrorism in the Middle East and Europe,” said the president. “For us, the Iranian regime is an enemy that does not mask its intentions regarding the destruction of Israel. We must take this seriously. The Iranian threat is not restricted to its nuclear program. It continues with its missile program which represents no less serious a threat, and to extend the influence of the Iranian regime across the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon through Hezbollah and others.”

The president noted Hezbollah’s precision missile arsenal that is deployed across Lebanon and is aimed at Israeli citizens, and the terror tunnels it dug into Israeli territory, saying “If we are threatened from Lebanon, we will not stand by. Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah actions. France is a power with decisive influence in our region and it is vital that she understands that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese system. The Lebanese president cannot wash his hands of it if Iranian missiles are fired from his country onto Israel. We have just completed the destruction of six terror tunnels that Hezbollah dug into Israeli territory in violation of Israeli sovereignty, of UN resolutions, specifically UN Security Council Resolution 1701. We say clearly to the Lebanese government and to its allies around the world: Hezbollah’s aggression must be stopped before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that neither Lebanon nor Israel want. The stability of the Middle East is important to Israel. We now have ongoing strategic cooperation with Jordan and Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries for the good of regional stability. It is a tragedy that Lebanon is not part of this widening circle of cooperation.”

The president also spoke about anti-Semitism, saying “in a few days we will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and unfortunately we see that anti-Semitism is once again raising its ugly head in France, particularly over the last year. Just recently, we mourned the murders of Sarah Halimi and Marie Kandel. Mr President, I would like to thank you on behalf of the people of Israel for your leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism. Your remarks that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are connected, and taking responsibility for crimes of the Vichy regime are a sign of that leadership. The program of Holocaust remembrance that your government has introduced into the education system is an important message and a very important step. Your government’s position against anti-Semitism is particularly significant at a time when senior politicians, members of European governments, are no longer embarrassed to be anti-Semites or to rewrite history.”

President Macron of France thanked President Rivlin for his words and also emphasized the good relations between the countries, saying “the relations between Israel and France have deepened and strengthened over the last 70 years in many fields. When we disagree, we do so as friends and agree from time to time not to agree. The friendship between Israel and France looks to the future and proves that the cooperation between is wide-ranging and constantly expanding. The French community in Israel is the link between our countries and the young people on both sides are our future. We must invest in them. The Jewish community in France is an inseparable part of French history and I am determined to continue and strengthen our fight against anti-Semitism, which is absolutely opposed our values and everything our democracy represents. We will never accept any violence or intimidation in our country. We will do everything we can to ensure that anti-Semitism is eliminated.”

“We also have close security cooperation and sometimes, as I have said, we do not agree - for example, regarding the Iranian nuclear agreement. I have explained France’s position on this issue many times and I want to repeat that Israeli security remains for us one of the most important principles of regional security. We believe that we must continue the dialog in order to control Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity. Because of that, I told the president of my concerns about the recent fire on Israel from Syria. We will continue to keep Israeli interests regarding Israel at the forefront of our mind and will make sure that our partners do the same. Regarding Lebanon, I expressed my concern about the discovery of the tunnels that were dug towards Israel and commended our intensive cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I repeated our position that a solution will only be found through dialog and mutual respect and I want to comment the president’s brave and pragmatic position that we must build trust between the two sides. France will do all it can to find a solution on the ground, and when it is found we will support it with all our might. I believe that from where we are standing now, we must continue to fight without compromise against anything that threatens mutual respect. The continued building of settlements delays a solution and at the same time any boycott that aims to harm Israeli interests is unacceptable to us.”