The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday named Haim Koren as ambassador to South Sudan, signaling the importance Jerusalem attributes to its relationship with the world’s newest state.

Koren, a former director of the ministry’s Political Planning Division, will for the time being be a non-resident ambassador, flying regularly from Israel to South Sudan.

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The appointment comes just a few weeks after South Sudan President Salva Kiir visited Israel for a one-day visit. Jerusalem is keen on strengthening its ties with an arc of eastern African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan – which, like Israel, are worried about Iranian penetration and radical Islamist terrorism.

Koren, who has previously served in Chicago and Egypt, is an Arabic expert who can distinguish among Sudanese dialects. He was used in this capacity by security officials a number of times when they were trying to determine whether infiltrators into Israel claiming to be political refugees from Darfur were indeed from that region, or rather from other areas in the country looking to come to Israel for economic gain.

Koren was appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Turkmenistan earlier in the year, but failed to take up that post after the Turkmen foreign ministry claimed he was a spy because he spent three years as an instructor at the National Security College.

Turkmenistan, which borders Iran, is very jittery about Israel using the embassy there to spy on its neighbor, and Koren was the second consecutive ambassadorial candidate that Turkmenistan rejected. That post still remains vacant.

In a related development, the Foreign Ministry’s appointment committee also named Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman as Israel’s next envoy to Berlin, replacing Yoram Ben-Zeev. The move is somewhat unusual, since Hadas-Handelsman took up the post as Israel’s envoy to the EU in Brussels just six months ago.

One official said the reason Hadas-Handelsman will be moved so quickly is because he is considered the best candidate for the Germany position, considered one of the most important in the foreign service. Ties with Berlin, though good overall, have been marked over the last few months by patches of tension due to Germany’s harsh censure of Israeli construction over the Green Line.

Ambassadors generally remain in their posts for at least three years.

Foreign Ministry sources said Hadas-Handelsman, who went to Brussels after serving as the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director- general for the Middle East and the peace process, speaks German.

Both appointments need approval by the cabinet, something that is generally just a formality.

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