Ex-Israeli ambassador to Mauritania surprised by cut in ties

Boaz Bismut says relations caused no harm to image of northwest African state.

Israel’s last official ambassador to Mauritania said he was surprised by the country’s weekend announcement that it had completely severed tied with the Jewish state.
“To be honest,” Boaz Bismut told The Media Line. “I didn’t believe it would happen because I knew the relations were something good and had positive consequences on both sides.”
The northwest African country’s foreign minister announced over the weekend that it had broken all diplomatic ties with Israel. Speaking in the capital Nouakchott late Saturday, Naha Mint Hamdi Ould Mouknass said Mauritania has cut ties with Israel “completely and definitively.”
The move leaves just Egypt and Jordan with full diplomatic relations with Israel.
As an Islamic nation that straddles black and Arab Africa, Mauritania was one of only three Arab League members with full diplomatic relations with Israel. Relations were forged in 1999 in the wake of Palestinian-Israeli peace making. Even during Israel’s much-criticized 2002 offensive against Palestinian terror bases, Mauritania maintained relations.
But last March Mauritania expelled all Israeli diplomats and ordered the Israeli embassy closed in protest over the IDF offensive in the Gaza Strip. Mouknass said that “freezing” relations would not be sufficient. Mouknass’ comments followed accusations from Mauritania's opposition party and pro-Palestinian sympathizers that it had quietly maintained relations with Israel while publically stating that it had ended them.
During the flowering of relations between the two countries, Israel facilitated numerous projects there, helping to build Mauritania’s first and so far only oncology center.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials played down the Mauritanian announcement.
“There is nothing new in this statement,” said Andy David, a foreign ministry spokesman. “It is part of the ongoing and increasing extremism being witnessed in that region which is being influenced by the extreme teachings of Iran.”
Officials in Jerusalem blamed the cut in ties on attempts by the current Mauritanian leader Gen. Mohamed Abdel Aziz, who seized power in a coup in 2008, to work his country back into the Arab fold and support from Iran.
“They went from being a moderate country like Egypt and Jordan to one more like Libya and Syria,” said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bismut, who served as Israel’s ambassador from 2004 through 2008, saidthat moderate Arab states were needed for the Israel-Palestinian peacetalks to succeed.
“The Quartet is trying its best efforts torenew the peace process and everyone knows how much the moderate campof the Arab world is important for the success of this peace process,”Bismut said. “I must say this decision, in this context and in thistiming disappoints me a lot… And I must say that for Mauritania thefact that it had full relations with Israel wasn’t doing any harm totheir image; to the contrary.”
“When I learned of the news I wasvery, very disappointed because I know how much efforts were made forthese relations,” he added. “Mauritania was in certain ways like anisland of calm in a rough sea. It’s a pity.”