Israel's Paris embassy said the pair would discuss "the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear programme"

Paris (AFP) - Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seeking a stronger European stance against Iran’s nuclear programme as he met with French President Emmanuel Macron for talks Thursday in Paris.

Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear programme”.

Macron welcomed Netanyahu at the Elysee Palace for the dinner meeting, with no press statement scheduled afterwards, AFP correspondents said.

Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic programme.

The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its more neutral stance over the conflict in the hope of a more confrontational Western position towards Tehran.

By “playing the Ukraine card”, Netanyahu hopes to “consolidate an anti-Iranian front” with the West, said David Khalfa at the Fondation Jean Jaures, a Paris-based think tank.

He hopes for “increased sanctions against Iran and the full addition of the Revolutionary Guards to the list” of sanctioned entities, Khalfa added – a step both France and Germany have so far resisted.

Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating energy.

Siding with Ukraine is not without risk for Netanyahu, as Russian air defences deployed in neighbouring Syria could be turned against Israeli aircraft during occasional raids on Iranian interests there.

France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, saying its nuclear programme has reached “a dangerous point” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.

- Tensions mount -

Tehran also holds several foreign citizens who are considered political hostages by Western governments.

Netanyahu’s visit comes after a drone attack at the weekend on a defence ministry facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.

Netanyahu's visit comes after a drone attack on a defence ministry facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan, which Tehran has blamed on Israel

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, have said the attack was carried out by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, though this has not been confirmed by Israel.

Macron’s office said the French leader would also “reiterate the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism”.

Netanyahu visits as violence has intensified between Israelis and Palestinians, with Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip early Thursday, drawing Palestinian rocket fire in retaliation.

Last Friday, a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people outside a synagogue in an Israeli settler neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem.

It was the deadliest attack targeting Israeli civilians in more than a decade, and came one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.

Staying in France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.

Judicial reforms planned by the prime minister’s latest coalition of right, far right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties have raised the hackles of some business executives, notably in the financial sector, who have threatened to quit Israel.