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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog on Thursday urged his colleagues in the government to desist from talking about another impending war because it is harmful to Israel's image and to its tourist industry.
Herzog made the remark in response to a question following a luncheon address to the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA). In his opening comments, Herzog had noted the direct links between tourism and security, which prompted the question from the audience as to why government ministers persisted in talking about another war.
Referring to efforts of the international community to prevent that war, Herzog said many of the world's leaders were trying to find the ignition key to turn on the peace process. But, he said, efforts on the ground were being blocked by Hamas, which, he said, was controlled by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus.
"There must be more international pressure on Hamas to accept the conditions of the Quartet," he said.
Herzog said he was pleased the Chinese had clearly stated to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that they were opposed to Iran developing nuclear capability, but accepted the statement cautiously because it was "generally known that all members of the UN Security Council are part of an interest game, power game and a fuel game."
As for attitudes towards Israel, the usually optimistic Herzog painted a pessimistic picture. "Our balance sheet is more negative now than 18 months ago," he said, adding that at that time the American position was stronger in Iraq and the American administration was more influential.
"Moreover," he said, "governments are changing around the world, and these changes are creating political tremors that have given Iran a boost."
Israel's image as a war zone has had a detrimental effect on tourism, he said. "As the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths, Israel should have at least as many tourists as Spain, namely 56 million," he said, "but last year there were only 1.9 million."
Herzog was hopeful that the figure would exceed two million in 2007.
Asked about his opinions about someone "ill-equipped" becoming defense minister, he replied that he had already announced his support for Ehud Barak. He suggested that anyone who wanted to influence change in the Defense Ministry still had time to join the Labor Party to vote in May's elections for the party's leadership.