Israeli ambassador to the UN: The front line of efforts against Iran

#18 - Our man at the UN and in DC: Gilad Erdan

Gilad Erdan attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gilad Erdan attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan took part in the traditional welcome event for new envoys to New York City’s Turtle Bay in early September. Under normal circumstances he would have been on a boat on the Hudson River together with his colleagues from around the world and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Instead, he was in his home office, on Zoom. Some of the attendees changed the backgrounds of their screens to look like they were sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
“We’re all in the same boat,” one ambassador quipped.
By the time Erdan took part in the orientation event he had been on the job for only three weeks, and by the time these words are published it will be a month, but he had already been involved in a flurry of diplomatic activity.

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In his first week on the job, the former public security and strategic affairs minister and once-top Likud MK met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who invoked “snapback” sanctions on Iran. Soon after, there was a vote in the Security Council (UNSC) on extending the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. And he’s finding ways to bring Israel’s new ties with the United Arab Emirates to fruition. Plus, the General Assembly is set to open next week.
Iran is foremost on his mind these days, as October 18, the date on which the UNSC arms embargo on Tehran expires, approaches.
The US declared snapback sanctions last month, which theoretically means that the embargo will be renewed despite the UNSC voting against it. However, China, Russia and European states argue that the US does not have the authority to invoke snapback because it pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 Iran deal is called, while the US argues that since the mechanism is part of a UNSC resolution and not the JCPOA, they are still party to it.
“We fully support and are fully coordinated with the Americans, and we do what we can to help in this area through diplomatic efforts,” Erdan said. “Unfortunately, most European countries are sticking to their stance that separates the terrorist behavior of Iran and its human rights violations, including murdering protesters, and destabilizing the Middle East from wanting to preserve the JCPOA.” Erdan pointed out that Iran is already in violation of the deal, enriching 10 times more uranium than is permitted. He lamented that the sunset clauses of the JCPOA – lifting first the conventional arms embargo in October, and then in a few years allowing the development of ballistic missiles, and in a decade to enrich uranium with almost no restrictions – are a “dangerous process for the future of the world and for Israel.” The ambassador also explained that if the international community ignores the snapback message, it will be a “historic threat” to the UN and its efforts “to preserve peace in the world will collapse.” “The UN and UNSC are built on international law and compliance. If [UNSC member states] decide there is no compliance, then any country can decide on its own that it won’t listen when it doesn’t want to.... This threatens the UNSC’s ability to make binding decisions,” he said.
ERDAN IS hopeful that the newly open ties between Israel and the UAE will improve Israel’s standing in the UN.
“When we talk about the automatic majority against Israel in the UN, the years following this agreement will be an opportunity for the first time to shatter this twisted concept that existed because of the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s stances. This is the challenge of the coming years to act and change this historic concept,” he stated.
Peace with the UAE also “frees peace and normalization with the Muslim world from being dependent on the Palestinians,” he added.
Erdan pointed out that ties with the UAE were built behind the scenes over many years, and he hopes that he can create the infrastructure for normalization with more Arab countries at the UN.
Erdan is already in an influential position at the UN, but in January, his impact will grow when he heads to Washington, DC, to become Israel’s ambassador to the US at the same time, a double posting that no Israeli has held since Abba Elan in the 1950s.
In the meantime, it is unclear whether Donald Trump will remain president or if Joe Biden will take his place. Regardless of the outcome, Erdan has said he is committed to maintaining bipartisan support for Israel.
“As strategic affairs minister, I fought boycotts of Israel and we worked to convince states in the US to promote legislation against boycotts. I believed in a big tent philosophy and I worked with all organizations and Jewish communities and parties, because the US and our relations with it are our most significant international strategic asset... and it’s my job to preserve it.” Erdan disputed those who believe that Israel has lost the support of the Democratic Party.
“It’s true that there are more extreme parts of the Democratic Party, like the ‘squad’ or Bernie Sanders, but I don’t accept that it’s a bad situation party-wide,” he said. “The debate on the [Democratic] platform, where a push to punish Israel for considering extending sovereignty was voted down, and... Democrats voting to send $3.8 billion in military aid as part of the Obama-era MOU are recent examples that show the Democratic mainstream is very committed and supportive of Israel.” Erdan hesitated to compare himself to Eban, who has legendary status in the annals of Israeli diplomacy, but he was confident that he is up for the double job.
“I know all the issues on the agenda, as I was in the Security Cabinet for eight years,” he said.
Plus, Erdan said he could leverage the two jobs, because many countries look to Israel’s close ties with the US as a way to strengthen their own connections with Washington, and holding both at the same time will better help coordinate joint US-Israel strategies in the UN.
“Connections with Washington will help me promote Israel’s interests better in the UN,” Erdan concluded.