Netanyahu warns Merkel: 'New refugee crisis' sparked by Iran

Netanyahu warns Merkel: 'New refugee crisis' sparked by Iran
The German and Israeli leaders expressed deep differences over Iran, with Netanyahu casting dramatic predictions of religious wars and refugee crises sparked by Iranian interference in regional conflicts
3 min read
05 June, 2018
Netanyahu and Merkel clashed over their stances on Iran [Getty]
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit to Berlin on Monday that Iranian meddling in the Middle East could prompt a massive new refugee influx to Europe, as the two leaders clashed over the future of the nuclear deal with Tehran.

At the start of a three-day European tour dominated by strategic differences on Iran, Netanyahu declared that Tehran has been able to bankroll a growing military presence in countries such as Syria and Yemen because sanctions had been lifted in exchange for its halt in nuclear enrichment activities.

Iran wants to "basically conduct a religious campaign in largely Sunni Syria but try to convert Sunnis," he said at a joint press conference with Merkel.

"This will inflame another religious war - this time a religious war inside Syria and the consequences will be many, many more refugees and you know where exactly they will come," he said.

Read more: In Syria, Iran-Israel rivalry puts Russian alliances in the spotlight

More than one million asylum seekers, with Syrians making up the biggest group, have arrived in Germany since 2015, sparking an upsurge in support for the antisemitic and Islamophobic far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party and saw Merkel's ruling majority shrink in her fourth term.

Germany, France and Britain are three of the signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between world powers and Iran, aimed at keeping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu, who has long railed against the deal, will continue on to Paris for meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.

All three countries have vowed to try to salvage the hard-fought accord since President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from it last month.

The European powers argue it is the best way to head off a regional arms race and have vowed with Russia and China, the two other signatory countries, to keep it alive.

'Malignant cancerous tumour'

Merkel insisted that the Europeans and Israel were "united by the goal that Iran must never get a nuclear weapon" but acknowledged deep differences with Netanyahu on "how we can best achieve this".

She defended the nuclear accord as ensuring "at least for a certain time, that Iran's activities are under control" noting that Tehran had been "on the brink of having a nuclear weapon" before the deal was signed.

But she acknowledged that a supplementary deal with Tehran covering its ballistic missile programme as well as its interventions in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen was needed.

"But we believe that this can be achieved with tough negotiations," she said. 

Asked about Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments on Twitter Sunday calling Israel a "malignant cancerous tumour", Merkel said Germany and its partners had "repeatedly and with great clarity told Iran that we will stand up for Israel's right to security".

Meanwhile demonstrators gathered outside Germany's parliament protesting the Israeli leader's visit, holding up pictures of of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli forces.

Western powers view Iran's involvement in its neighbours' affairs as destabilising for the region while Israel sees it as a direct threat to its existence.

Arch rivals Iran and Israel have been kept at bay for decades. However, an unprecedented May 10 escalation in Syria that saw Israel bomb alleged Iranian targets after blaming Tehran for a rocket barrage has sparked fears of open war. 

Israel is considered the leading military power in the Middle East and believed to be the only country in the region to possess nuclear weapons.