SYDNEY – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the 11 Australian ministers he met with on Thursday – at the equivalent of Israel’s Security Cabinet – to take a more aggressive position toward Iran. With this message, Netanyahu continued lobbying efforts on the matter he began in London just over two weeks ago when he met British Prime Minister Theresa May
Following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal championed by former US president Barack Obama, Australia was among the countries that began a normalization process with Teheran. With current President Donald Trump
opposed to the deal and using much more aggressive rhetoric when talking about the Iranians, Netanyahu is trying to get allies to pull back from the normalization process.
There is a degree of openness to this, one senior diplomatic official said, but it is still a “work in progress.”
Meanwhile Netanyahu, in his meetings with various Australian leaders, continued to speak out against the 2015 deal, saying that it “allows no bombs today, but a hundred bombs a decade from now.”
Iran’s presence in Syria, according to diplomatic officials, will be at the top of the agenda when the premier travels to Russia in some two weeks for a one-day visit to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One of the issues Netanyahu is expected to raise with Putin is the “formalization” of concessions that Syrian President Bashar Assad has given the Iranians that could bring Iranian forces – and not “just” proxies such as Hezbollah – directly to Israel’s borders. This, the official said, “very much troubles us.”
During the meeting with the Australian ministers, discussions also centered on how to increase security cooperation between Jerusalem and Canberra.
In order to facilitate this process, the Defense Minister’s Director-General Udi Adam is scheduled to hold talks in Australia in June. And then, before Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is scheduled to visit Israel at the end of October to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, a delegation from the Australian Defense Ministry is scheduled to hold talks in Israel.
Australia, increasingly alarmed by signs of growing Islamic radicalism in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia, is expected to spend $25 billion to upgrade its military capabilities over the next few years.
Netanyahu is scheduled on Friday to meet Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, whom he met in Jerusalem just over a month ago.
Just as inside the US Democratic Party there is a growing faction on the Australian Left that is increasingly pro-Palestinian and critical of Israel, the same dynamic is at work inside Australia’s Labor Party. Israel, according to diplomatic officials, is keen on retaining good relations with the Labor Party, to keep the element very critical of Israel from growing ,and and to maintain support for Israel among both of Australia’s main parties.
Shorten gave a strongly pro-Israel address on Wednesday at a luncheon with Netanyahu, Turnbull, and 400 Israeli and Australian businessmen.