What’s behind Israel Katz’s rare criticism of Ron Dermer?

It's possible it's stories citing Netanyahu as saying in closed meetings that he sees Dermer and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen as possible successors

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August 19, 2019 04:45
2 minute read.
What’s behind Israel Katz’s rare criticism of Ron Dermer?

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – This was one of the weirdest feuds between Israel’s top diplomats: Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Israel Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

Katz claimed on Saturday that Dermer announced a month ago that he would let Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar enter Israel without consultation with his office.

“[Dermer] expressed his personal opinion,” Katz told Channel 12’s Meet the Press about the ambassador’s announcement. “It was not approved by the prime minister nor by me,” he added.

While this is only a sideshow to the tensions around the Omar-Tlaib saga, it is interesting nevertheless since only on rare occasions does the foreign minister publicly dispute the ambassador in Washington – who is also one of the closest people to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

How close? Just a week ago, Walla News published a story citing Netanyahu as saying in closed meetings that he sees Dermer and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen as possible successors. For Likud officials who have been waiting for 10 or 20 years to replace Netanyahu, such a statement – even when said behind closed doors – might be insulting.

First, to the facts: Dermer announced a month ago that “out of respect to Congress,” both Omar and Tlaib could visit Israel. His announcement came after in-depth consultations that included all the relevant experts from different government ministries, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

No one disputed his announcement, and for good reason: it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu was not aware of Dermer’s announcement. When Netanyahu took off to Ukraine on Sunday afternoon, he told reporters: “When Ambassador Dermer made his statement, there was no specific request or schedule, and no itinerary. When they gave it to us, we examined it and made a decision.”

An official in the Foreign Ministry, however, insisted that when Dermer announced that the two could visit, there was no such decision in place. “When [Dermer] made his statement, there was no final decision,” the official told The Post. “The fact is, the Interior Ministry did not release any information about it.”

No one can guess why Katz decided to point the finger at Dermer. However, it should be noted that the foreign minister just got back from a visit to Washington, a visit that concluded without a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, although Katz’s office announced that the two are set to meet. A source familiar with Katz’s visit told the Post that the minister was mad for not receiving a meeting with Pompeo.

Did Katz get the feeling that Dermer did not help him enough to secure a meeting?

“That’s nonsense,” said the official at the Foreign Ministry. “When the minister was there, Ambassador Dermer was in Alaska. The minister is the one who’s fighting to extend his appointment for another year, despite some legal challenges. We think he’s doing a great job.”

According to the official, “the minister will visit New York next month, and we hope that during that visit he will meet Secretary Pompeo.”

Dermer, who has been Israel’s most senior ambassador for the past six years, probably doesn’t feel obligated to work closely with Katz, who serves as a temporary minister in an interim government. But whether it was a rare clash between the two or a mutual lack of confidence between the foreign minister and his most senior ambassador – has yet to be seen.


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