Two of the five new ambassadors who presented their credentials to President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi on Monday are former chiefs of General Staff of their respective countries.
Gen. (ret.) José Isaías Barahona Herrera had quite an illustrious career before taking up a diplomatic posting. In addition to being commander in chief of the Armed Forces of Honduras, he was also police commissioner and the president of the Honduras University of Technology. He is also an electronics engineer.
Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Augustino S.K. Njoroge was commander in chief of the Kenyan Armed Forces up until his present appointment, and previously visited Israel in his military capacity.
Other ambassadors who presented credentials were Maria Elisa De Bittencourt Berenguer of Brazil, Roy Warren Blackbeard of Botswana, who is his country’s first ambassador to Israel, and Hennadiy Nadolenko of Ukraine.
Barahona Herrera was candid about the economic and security problems confronting his country and asked for Israel’s help in education, security and commerce.
“We have had difficult times, but Israel has been a great friend to Honduras,” he said, adding that his country could use Israel’s experience in preparing young people for technology. “We have a lot of young people in the social sciences, but not in technology. Without technology, we cannot develop.”
No less important to Honduras is Israel’s assistance in combating narco-traffic, terrorism and organized crime. “If we work together, it can make a big difference not only to Honduras, but to the whole region,” Barahona Herrera said.
Peres told him of plans to have everyone serving in the IDF study simultaneously for a bachelor’s degree, and noted that the army also teaches technology to soldiers who are technologically inclined.
He suggested that Honduras adopt a similar policy.
Israel would be happy to help where it could, Peres said.
The eloquent De Bittencourt Berenguer and Peres discussed the latter’s visit to Brazil last year, and the reciprocal visit to Israel this year by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Peres had been particularly pleased to note the good relations that exist between Brazil’s Jewish and Arab communities, he said.
De Bittencourt Berenguer emphasized that Brazil is now more visible on the international scene and is playing a bigger and deeper role in world affairs. She expressed satisfaction with the political dialogue that Brazil is conducting with Israel.
She was personally interested in developing cultural ties she said, and
in this context referred to the recent visit to Sao Paulo by Peres’
daughter Zvia Valdan, who had come to learn about the interactive
Portuguese language museum, because she wants to establish a similar
Hebrew language museum in Israel.
Peres confirmed that Valdan had been most enthusiastic about what she
had seen and heard in Brazil, and said that Israelis in general were
well disposed toward Brazil.
“People in Tel Aviv cried when Brazil lost in the World Cup [last
Friday],” he told her.
On a more serious level, he thought it was important for her to know
that Israel had left Gaza voluntarily, and had for eight years practiced
restraint in reaction to rockets and bullets fired from Gaza.
This restraint may have been a mistake, Peres said. “If we would have
responded to every rocket, no one would have complained.”
Israel has no interest in returning to Gaza or in running Gaza, he
declared. “We don’t want the people of Gaza to suffer. Our interest is
to see Gaza quiet, with no violence.”
Peres shared memories with Njoroge of his and Yitzhak Rabin’s meeting
with Jomo Kenyatta, who was the first prime minister and president of
Kenya. Peres still remembered the small forest near Kenyatta’s village
where each tree represented a freedom fighter who had been executed by
Njoroge recalled Kenya’s support for Israel during Operation Entebbe in
1976 and voiced appreciation for what Israel has done for Kenya in terms
of training its soldiers, and for the cooperation between the armed
forces of the two countries.
“Israel is respected a lot in Kenya because of its technical know-how.
My country cherishes Israel and its people,” he said.
What Kenya wants from Israel he said, was the introduction of direct
flights, which would facilitate a growth of Israeli tourism in Kenya and
would ease movement of people in both directions.
Blackbeard, who is a nonresident ambassador, is also his country’s high
commissioner in London. Botswana, which is one of the world’s largest
producers of diamonds, has suffered badly from the economic downturn, he
said. “It’s been a difficult time for the diamond industry.” In this
context he included Israeli diamond polishing companies that have
interests in Botswana.
Israel is also involved in water consultancy in Botswana, which with the
exception of its northern regions, is a fairly dry country.
Although the size of France, its population numbers only 2 million. Its
neighbors, from whom it used to buy cereals, have been affected by
famine and drought, and now can’t even produce half of their own needs.
It is for these reasons, said Blackbeard, that Botswana is in need of
Israel’s assistance in boosting agricultural production.
Blackbeard said that Botswana’s Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani would
visit Israel later this year. According to Transparency International,
Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa and ranks close to
Portugal and South Korea.
Peres, who will visit Ukraine in the fall, had a particularly warm
greeting for Nadolenko, telling him that for Israelis, Ukraine is not
just another place on the map, but an important place because many of
Israel’s founding fathers were born there.
He also said that he had spoken to President Viktor Yanukovych to
congratulate him on his election in February.
Nadolenko replied that Yanukovych was looking forward to meeting him.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Konstantyn Gryshchenko is expected to visit
Israel on July 21 to finalize an agreement whereby visas will no longer
be required for Israelis visiting Ukraine or Ukrainians visiting Israel.
In thanking Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for their
efforts on the visa issue, Nadolenko that this would lead to a whole new
level of relations between the two countries, and pledged that “Ukraine
will be one of the closest allies and supporters of Israel.”
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