President Isaac Herzog accepted the credentials of five new ambassadors on Thursday: Alex Gabriel Kalua of Tanzania, Arman Akopian of the Republic of Armenia, Nikolaus Lutterotti of Austria, Chuan Poh Lim of Singapore and Kubanychbek Omuraliev of Kyrgyzstan. They are the first group of new ambassadors for 2022.
Lim is currently a non-resident ambassador working out of Singapore, whose declared intention to open an embassy may transpire during his posting. He has been serving as a non-resident ambassador since January 2021.
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Lim did not present his credentials until this week. After a long and distinguished career in the Singapore Armed Forces, culminating in being named chief of the Defense Force, he retired from the army in April 2003 with the rank of Lt.-Gen.
Lim subsequently served as permanent secretary at the Education Ministry and helped to establish the Duke NUS Medical School. He was later appointed chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, among several other executive positions related to national security, biomedicine, science and technology. He is also a noted mathematician.
After Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia in August 1965, it appealed to other countries for help. The only country that responded was Israel.
Singapore is still dependent on Malaysia for its water supply because the cost of desalination is too expensive. Herzog said Israel has the technology that produces water out of the air.
The subject of Singapore’s relations with China was one of many topics raised in conversation.
“No country in the world can ignore China because of its economic weight,” Lim said. China had given Singapore many opportunities for advancing its own economy, he added.
Herzog was intrigued by Singapore’s success story, and curious about Singapore’s academic and cultural ties with Israel. He was pleased to learn that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has very good relations with Singapore.
Israel and Tanzania established diplomatic ties soon after Tanzania achieved independence in 1961. But relations were severed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and were not resumed until 1995.
Herzog told Kalua he had grown up hearing tales of the legendary Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first prime minister and president. Herzog said he hoped to one day meet current President Samia Suluhu Hassan, known as Mama Samia, either in Israel or Tanzania.
A devout Christian, Kalua said he felt privileged to be serving in the Holy Land because it would enable him to visit all the holy places, something he definitely intends to do.
Akopian surprised Herzog by presenting his credentials in fluent Hebrew. It transpired during their conversation that he is equally fluent in Arabic and Aramaic. At the conclusion of their meeting, he wrote in the guest book in Hebrew that he felt honored and privileged to be representing his country in Israel.
Akopian is only the second resident ambassador from Armenia. Before that, the Armenian ambassador was stationed in Cairo, and most of the diplomatic work in Israel was carried out by Jerusalem-born Tsolak Momjan, who has served as Armenia’s honorary consul since 1996, and who accompanied Akopian to the President’s Residence.
Their discussion included the Armenian community in Israel, which has lived here for centuries, the importance of the Armenian Church, the Jewish community in Armenia, and the huge ratio of the Armenian diaspora. According to Akopian, two-thirds of Armenians live outside Armenia.
Herzog told him about the Armenian ceramic artwork in the President’s Residence, which had been introduced by Herzog’s late mother, Aura, and showed Akopian the small reflective pool at the entrance to the building. Akopian was very moved and immediately began photographing.
When Herzog asked Akopian where he was living, he said he was still looking for a residence because his predecessor’s rental contract had expired. Herzog suggested he might find something suitable in Jerusalem. (The ambassador of Georgia lives in Jerusalem, even though his embassy is in Tel Aviv.)
Lutterotti, a career diplomat with an impressive CV, most recently served as Austria’s ambassador to Serbia. Before that he was a foreign-policy adviser to Sebastian Kurz during the latter’s terms as foreign minister and chancellor.
Herzog told him that many people who grew up in Austria had become prominent figures in Israel, citing Teddy Kollek, the beloved mayor of Jerusalem, and Asher Ben-Natan, a diplomat and director-general of the Defense Ministry who led the search for Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.
Herzog said he hopes to host Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and that he also hopes to visit Austria.
The two men found a lot in common during the course of their conversation, and Lutterotti added one more: they were each born on September 22.
The national anthem of the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan as it is generally known, has not been heard in Israel for more than 20 years. Just over two decades have elapsed since the last ambassador who presented his credentials to Ezer Weizman completed his term.
Omuraliev, who has been based in Ankara for the past three years, was recently appointed ambassador to Israel.
Israel and Kyrgyzstan established diplomatic relations in March 1992. Herzog recalled that his father, Israel’s sixth president, had been excited to receive the credentials of the first ambassador of Kyrgyzstan because it was a country unknown in Israel, and one that Israelis wanted to know more about.
A subject that crops up in nearly all conversations between the president and foreign diplomats is the extent of bilateral trade. Usually the situation is quite pleasing, but in this case, it was not. Herzog and Omuraliev agreed to work toward boosting economic relations and tourism between their two countries.
Herzog instructed his staff to look into the possibility of a visit to Kyrgyzstan. He also told Omuraliev he should come to Israel as often as possible. Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country, and aside from its beauty, that is one of the reasons Herzog said he wants to go there. He is keen to start a dialogue with as many Muslim countries as possible, he said.