Boris Johnson
Boris JohnsonReuters

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is one of the candidates to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister of Britain, expressed support for Israel in an interview with the UK-based Jewish News website, saying that “wild horses wouldn’t keep me away” from becoming the latest Prime Minister to visit the Jewish state.

In the interview, Johnson also called on Iran to “cease this madness” over its breaching of the 2015 nuclear deal and said he was “prepared” to restart sanctions against Tehran.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP and former mayor of London described himself as a “passionate Zionist” and Israel as “great country” that “I love”.

Johnson was asked about his characterization of the IDF’s operation against Hamas in 2014 as “disproportionate”, a claim that differentiated the London mayor’s response from that of then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.

“Those of us who support Israel always want Israel to show the greatest possible restraint in all its actions and to do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties. It’s totally unacceptable that innocent Israeli civilians should face the threat of rocket fire and bombardment from Gaza. I understand why Israel reacted in the way that it did and I understand the provocation and the outrageous behavior that occasioned that response. All I’m saying is that you know in any such response it’s always right to be proportionate,” he replied.

“Israel has a right to respond, Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel has a right to meet force with force. I absolutely agree with that, but all I was saying is I believe in Israel. I support Israel. I will always support Israel. I just joined with those who say ‘I want the Israeli response to be proportionate,’” added Johnson.

As London mayor, he led a successful trade mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but the final day made headlines for the wrong reasons after a series of engagements were cancelled amid Palestinian Arab anger at his colorful dismissal of Israel boycotters.

“I was proud to be the Mayor who led the first ever London-Israel trade mission. I’m proud that the UK is now Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and we saw huge investments both ways, partly actually as a result of that trip. We did a lot of good business but we want to step it up. There’s much much more to be done and I will be actively supporting trade and commercial engagements of all kinds,” he told the Jewish News.

Johnson said he “could see the logic” in moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem, as the US did with its Embassy, but said he believed “the moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress”.

He added that the moment for this country to formally recognize “Palestine” would be when Palestinian Authority leaders “meaningfully recognize Israel and stop threatening to revoke recognition.”

He also strongly condemned the PA’s “pay-to-slay” policy of paying salaries to terrorists, saying, “There are funds that are made available to the Palestinian Authority that end up in the pockets of terrorist families, and that is indeed a point I raised with Mahmoud Abbas, and will continue to raise.”

“I think it’s ludicrous that there should be any kind of financial incentive or compensation for terrorist activities,” added Johnson.

On Iran, Johnson insisted the nuclear deal which the UK remains a signatory to has stopped Tehran from building a nuclear weapon, but also said Britain must now wait for the international watchdog to confirm Iran’s claims that it has already broken its terms before considering sanctions.

“I don’t want people to think I’m in any way soft on Iran. We face a very difficult situation and I am certainly prepared to go down that route if they have breached the nuclear deal. My strong, strong advice to the Iranians would be to cease this madness, not to take any further steps that would break the terms of the agreement, and not to acquire a nuclear weapon,” he told the Jewish News.

“I think that there are enough tensions in that region without triggering a nuclear arms race, whose consequences would be very hard to foresee, and which would certainly pose very difficult choices for any Israeli government. I certainly think you could not fault the UK government for being tough on Iran’s sanction busting. As Prime Minister, I’d make sure we continue to do everything we can to constrain Iran’s disruptive behavior in the region.”

Britain earlier this week denounced Iran’s announcement that it would expand its uranium enrichment beyond the limit permitted in the 2015 deal.

Britain’s Foreign Office denounced Iran’s move as well, saying "Iran has broken the terms of the JCPOA.”

"While the UK remains fully committed to the deal, Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations. We are coordinating with other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the deal, including a Joint Commission," it added.