Meet Bibi’s (and Bar Rafaeli’s) Favorite French Politician

When French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius traveled to Geneva earlier this month to demand stricter restraints on Iran’s nuclear program, he had just got off the phone with a previously obscure French parliamentarian. MP Meyer Habib had delivered a stark warning to the foreign minister: If France didn’t crack down harder on Iran’s nuclear program, ...

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

When French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius traveled to Geneva earlier this month to demand stricter restraints on Iran's nuclear program, he had just got off the phone with a previously obscure French parliamentarian. MP Meyer Habib had delivered a stark warning to the foreign minister: If France didn't crack down harder on Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would attack the Islamic Republic. "You have to toughen your positions in order to prevent war," Habib said.

Coming from most other parliamentarians, such a statement could be dismissed as mere conjecture. But Habib is different: He has known Netanyahu for 21 years, helping open doors for the Israeli premier to the top ranks of the French government. Now, he has emerged as one of the staunchest advocates for imposing tough terms on Iran in the country perceived as the most skeptical of the interim nuclear deal.

Habib's ties to Netanyahu stem from his unique political résumé. The French parliamentarian, an Orthodox Jew who used to be deputy chairman of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, which represents French citizens living abroad. Half of his constituency resides in Israel. According to a profile published in Tablet Magazine, he first connected with Netanyahu in the early 1990s, when he helped the Israeli politician get his brother Yoni's letters published in French. Netanyahu returned the favor when Habib ran for parliament in 2013, recording a video calling him "a good friend of mine and a good friend of Israel." Habib -- who also counts Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli among his supporters -- won in an upset.

When French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius traveled to Geneva earlier this month to demand stricter restraints on Iran’s nuclear program, he had just got off the phone with a previously obscure French parliamentarian. MP Meyer Habib had delivered a stark warning to the foreign minister: If France didn’t crack down harder on Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would attack the Islamic Republic. "You have to toughen your positions in order to prevent war," Habib said.

Coming from most other parliamentarians, such a statement could be dismissed as mere conjecture. But Habib is different: He has known Netanyahu for 21 years, helping open doors for the Israeli premier to the top ranks of the French government. Now, he has emerged as one of the staunchest advocates for imposing tough terms on Iran in the country perceived as the most skeptical of the interim nuclear deal.

Habib’s ties to Netanyahu stem from his unique political résumé. The French parliamentarian, an Orthodox Jew who used to be deputy chairman of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, which represents French citizens living abroad. Half of his constituency resides in Israel. According to a profile published in Tablet Magazine, he first connected with Netanyahu in the early 1990s, when he helped the Israeli politician get his brother Yoni’s letters published in French. Netanyahu returned the favor when Habib ran for parliament in 2013, recording a video calling him "a good friend of mine and a good friend of Israel." Habib — who also counts Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli among his supporters — won in an upset.

As international negotiators prepare to return to Geneva on Nov. 20, Habib and Netanyahu are once again on the same page about imposing tougher terms on Tehran’s nuclear program. "Today, if we remain strong on Iran, we are in a situation to avoid a war," he told Foreign Policy. "The Iranians are on their knees. We can get a better deal. We can make sure they never get the bomb. We are not allowed to fail."

There are some signs that the world powers will request stricter terms than first offered to Iran — but whether this will satisfy Habib or Israel remains to be seen. The Israeli daily Haaretz published a leak from "informed U.S. sources" on Sunday that reported the world powers would demand a halt to Iran’s construction of Arak nuclear reactor, and an "unprecedented inspection regime" to ensure Tehran adheres to its commitments. Habib, however, said that a good deal would include even more concessions from Tehran: He wants Iran to dismantle the Arak reactor, degrade its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium to 5 percent or ship it out of the country, and dismantle its uranium enrichment facilities at Qom and Natanz.

While Habib emphasizes that he doesn’t speak from Netanyahu, he says his long association with the Israeli premier has led him to believe that a bad deal could invite an Israeli attack. "[I]f the world doesn’t take its responsibilities, [Netanyahu] will not take any risk, and never accept that Israel would be in a situation where it could be destroyed," he said. "You can make your own conclusions on what this would mean." 

Whether Israel can successfully accomplish a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities remains a matter of debate. Netanyahu’s former national security advisor said on Monday that there was "no question" the premier would order an attack if he felt he had no other option, and that such a strike could set back Iran’s nuclear program "for a very long time." For Habib, at least, such guarantees stand in stark contrast to what he perceives as the irresolution of the United States when it comes to Iran.

"Unfortunately, President Obama let his enemies cross his red lines many times without reacting," he says. "In my opinion, Netanyahu does not let anyone cross his red lines."

 

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