Amateur hour

To handle the Iranian threat effectively, Israel needs competent, experienced diplomats, not Israel Beiteinu politicians.

By MEIR JAVEDANFAR
January 20, 2010 09:51
3 minute read.
ahmadinejad, hands in air, 298 ap

ahmadinejad, hands in ai. (photo credit: AP [file])

Many are still wondering about the root causes of the recent spat between Jerusalem and Ankara. On the Turkish side, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disrespectful behavior toward President Shimon Peres at last year's Davos conference played a significant role in the commencement of the recent quarrel. During a heated discussion, on a public stage, Erdogan stormed off because he didn't like Peres's response to his provocative statements regarding Israel's actions in Gaza.

In Turkish and Israeli culture - in fact in almost every culture - this is plainly rude. Some  would even consider it humiliating, as it conveys the message that "you are not worth speaking to."

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On the Turkish side, the situation was made worst by a number of TV programs which portrayed IDF soldiers as nothing more than child murderers. Had Israel made similar inaccurate and sensationalized programs about Turkey's treatment of Kurds or Armenians, the reaction from Turkey would have been as strong, if not worse.

The State of Israel had every right to protest Turkey's recent actions, and it could have done so effectively. Unfortunately this was not the case. The Foreign Ministry is staffed by many brilliant qualified professionals. However, it is currently headed by politicians in the form of Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, who, judging by their recent actions, know very little about diplomacy.

After the recent provocations from Ankara, instead of conveying Israel's concerns and protestations professionally and effectively, Ayalon decided to try to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by seating him on a lower chair during their meeting and by not having the Turkish flag displayed on the table. Once the Israeli press exposed the affair, Ayalon decided to apologize. His apology was timely, but by that stage it basically meant that Israel, which was the victim of offensive Turkish behavior, now had to apologize as well.

ISRAELI TAXPAYERS,
who pay Ayalon's salary, would be forgiven for hoping that this is the end of such incompetent behavior by the deputy foreign minister. They may be disappointed to know that, in fact, more of the same theatrics may soon follow . Why? Because people who work with Ayalon are in fact proud of his behavior. In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, a source close to Ayalon stated that "Israel will benefit from the way in which Ayalon managed the crisis."

To err is human, says the famous proverb. Ayalon erred once. The people who work with him could have advised him to act otherwise, but it seems they were unsuccessful or simply did not know any better.

However, if after the enormous damage caused by the deputy foreign minister to the diplomatic standing of this country, his advisers are still feebleminded enough to say that his actions are going to benefit the state, it shows that this issue has still not been understood properly by Ayalon's team. Or that they simply don't care about the damage they have caused.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must address this level of professional deficiency shown by Israel Beiteinu in the Foreign Ministry. With the issue of Iran becoming even more sensitive, Israel needs competent hands at its diplomatic wheels. Every statement could impact Israel's regional and international position and leverage, both positively and negatively.

With the regime of Ali Khamenei becoming weaker every day at home, he will increasingly be looking outside his borders for ways to strengthen his government's standing. Just as Syria's Hafez Assad used his influence in Lebanon as a pillar to maintain his regime, Khamenei will now be relying more on Iran's influence in the region to shore up his position. This could include the use of Hizbullah hitmen to attack protesters in Iran, and the use of Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria to create instability around Israel's borders. This is in addition to Khamenei's so far successful plans to forge a close alliance with Turkey.

The supreme leader's ultimate goal is to diplomatically outmaneuver and isolate Israel. This means that Israel needs its diplomats to be as competent as its soldiers who defend its borders. Just as Netanyahu takes Israel's security and defense seriously, he must pay similar attention to this country's diplomatic capabilities.

The recent episode with the Turkish ambassador has made Israel into a laughing stock around the world, including among Iran's intellectual elite, a majority of whom oppose Khamenei. Failure to address Israel's diplomatic failures may mean that Iran's supreme leader, despite his country's military inferiority, may actually win the diplomatic battle.

The writer is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.


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