Gabi Ashkenazi: Putting the Foreign Ministry back on the map

#15 - Israel's diplomat: Gabi Ashkenazi

General (Ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF Chief of General Staff and Chairman Of The Board of the Rashi Foundation at the 7th Annual JPost Conference in NY (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
General (Ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF Chief of General Staff and Chairman Of The Board of the Rashi Foundation at the 7th Annual JPost Conference in NY
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi entered his new position under less than ideal circumstances.
Each side in the Likud-Blue and White unity coalition more or less had veto power over the other, leading to the political paralysis and infighting seen over the past few months.
Plus, the coalition agreement granted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the ability to put to a vote the extension of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria as detailed in the Trump peace plan – something that presented a challenge for Blue and White from day one.
It put much of the world, and especially Europe, on alert. One foreign minister after the other reached out, and some even visited Israel, to emphasize their opposition to the move. The address for many of their warnings – Ashkenazi.
But Ashkenazi was in no position to defend it. In public comments, he and Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed the need to maintain Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and that if there was going to be a sovereignty move, it would need to be part of the larger Trump peace plan, which the two fully endorsed.
But while some on the Right might blame this position for scuttling the move, it could actually be seen as what helped bring Israel and the United Arab Emirates together. Ultimately, Israel got a historic normalization deal out of the situation.
And while Blue and White defends its presence in a Netanyahu-led government by saying it’s blocking what it feels are undemocratic policies in the coalition’s right flank, this does not mean that Ashkenazi is an obstructionist. The former IDF chief of staff, credited with major reforms in the military after the Second Lebanon War, has brought that same approach to the Foreign Ministry, grabbing his new role by the reins.
After years of Netanyahu holding the portfolios, while sending his own envoys to do much of the major foreign policy work instead of the ministry’s diplomats, and then Israel Katz seeming to have little to no interest in the job of foreign minister while he held it, Ashkenazi is a full-time foreign minister.
He immediately got to work bringing back the ministry’s dignity and influence, including making sure it got back some of the tens of millions of shekels cut in the last state budget. In his first 100 days in office, he hosted 10 foreign ministers, and another eight are on the way, plus he appointed over 20 ambassadors, including the first Bedouin ambassador. He addressed all 27 EU foreign ministers while in Berlin on the personal invitation of his German counterpart, Heiko Maas.
He is in direct contact with foreign ministers across the Middle East – not only UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, with whom he chats on WhatsApp, but others whom he will not name. He took ambassadors of countries in the UN Security Council to the border with Lebanon to understand how Hezbollah operates in the area ahead of the vote on extending UNIFIL’s mandate.
One of Ashkenazi’s top priorities in office has been using diplomatic means to block Iran’s malign activity in the region, especially by convincing other countries to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
On his watch, Germany and Lithuania outlawed the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist group, and Serbia and Kosovo say they are on the way. This will hurt Hezbollah in its pockets, making it less able to threaten Israel and, perhaps, bringing greater stability in Lebanon and on our borders.
This is also part of Ashkenazi’s attitude toward diplomacy as give-and-take. If a country is Israel’s ally, it should show it, whether by outlawing the terrorists who threaten us or – another matter the minister emphasizes in his talks with his counterparts – by not voting against Israel in the UN.
There is an entire toolbox of ways countries can show their friendship with Israel, and Ashkenazi has sought for the ministry to maximize those tools to Israel’s advantage.