Abba Eban Institute: Israeli diplomacy gets a boost of innovation

"We are not sitting and waiting for things to happen... we initiate innovative diplomatic efforts to bring about change."

Ron Prosor, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media outside the Security Council chambers July 20, 2014 (photo credit: AFP / STAN HONDA)
Ron Prosor, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media outside the Security Council chambers July 20, 2014
(photo credit: AFP / STAN HONDA)
In March 2017, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was allowing the terrorist organization Hezbollah to amass weapons and ammunition on Israel’s northern border. The world was unaware. By August 2018, the term of UNIFIL’s weak commander was not continued and the organization’s mandate was subjected to changes and improvements for the first time since 2006.
How did this shift come about?
Just ask the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the Lauder School of Government at IDC Herzliya headed by Ambassador Ron Prosor and executive director Yaniv Cohen. The change, according to Prosor, was the result of what the institute’s team calls “effective, innovative and proactive diplomacy.”
In May 2017, Prosor penned the op-ed “There’s Still Time to Avert War in Lebanon,” which was published by The Wall Street Journal. That article put the focus on the flaws in UNIFIL’s mandate and detailed Prosor’s plan to give UNIFIL real power in order to prevent the next war in Lebanon.
The institute, said Prosor, became the sole voice on the global stage that called out the lack of professional background of the commander who was leading the force and his blind eye toward Hezbollah’s violations on the Israel-Lebanon border, deeming them as activities of “shepherds and hunters.”
The institute brought this issue to public’s attention through a comprehensive social and traditional media campaign, among other efforts, that compared UNIFIL to the three monkeys that can neither see, hear nor speak.
In May and June, the institute held a series of direct engagements with its counterparts in New York and Washington, DC. A short while later, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley visited Israel’s northern border. Haley’s pre-existing interest in this issue, together with the institute’s push for public discussion, resulted in the June 28 congressional hearing, in which Haley was asking about UNIFIL’s mandate, highlighting the commander’s “embarrassing lack of understanding of what’s going on.” In August, she publicly criticized UNIFIL at the UN.
On August 30, a UN resolution was expanded to task peacekeepers with making sure southern Lebanon was “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than those belonging to the Lebanese government. The mission mandate was not changed, but the resolution adopted spells out that the peacekeeping operation is authorized to “take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces ... to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities.”
One year later, following a comprehensive operation by the institute and due to growing international attention to UNIFIL’s failures – and despite EU pressure to prolong the UNIFIL commander’s term – his term was discontinued.
“We are not sitting and waiting for things to happen,” said Prosor of the professional staff of researchers and more than 20 IDC interns at the Abba Eban Institute. “We initiate innovative diplomatic efforts to bring about change.”
The “Do Tank,” as he likes to call it, is working to revolutionize Israel’s foreign service and the way the country approaches diplomacy, using modern tools – new media and film, for example – in combination with traditional diplomatic methods to effect change and create impact.
“We identify a problem,” said Prosor. “Then we do the research. Finally, we use innovative tools to achieve our goals.”
Take the institute’s recent efforts to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization in Europe. According to Prosor, the Abba Eban Institute identified that, “while it seems obvious in Israel and America that Hezbollah’s military and political arms are both sponsors of terrorism, in Europe this is not so obvious. There, they make an artificial differentiation between the military arm – a designated terrorist group – and the political arm.”
As such, he said, the political arm is operating “without interference” in Germany and most of Europe, able to raise money to fund weapons, ammunition and terrorism.
“The European continent has turned into the lifeline – the oxygen line – for Hezbollah’s terrorist activities,” said Prosor. “If Germany, and then the European Union, would designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, it would suffocate part of the organization’s ability to function.”
For more than a year, the institute researched and produced an investigative documentary on Hezbollah activity in Germany. The film was produced entirely in the German language and with German and international experts.
“We wanted to show leaders that a good German citizen could be approached to give money to a charity he or she is told funds orphans,” said Prosor. “But when the person gives this money, it does not go to orphans, but directly to Lebanon, where Hezbollah’s actions create more orphans.
“Rather than saying to the Europeans, ‘Hey, guys, Hezbollah is really bad for Israel,’ we tell them why Hezbollah is bad for Europe and how they can prevent the next war in the Middle East,” Prosor said.
The documentary was first shown at the 2018 International Conference on Counter-Terrorism in front of hundreds of top decision-makers, defense, intelligence and police officials, prominent academic scholars and security industry leaders from more than 60 countries. Prosor said that after its showing, experts came forward and said the film awakened them to something about which they were not aware and that they would bring the message home.
At the end of November, the documentary is going to be shown to the German parliament.
“These parliamentarians can bring change,” said Prosor. “They can initiate the process that will eventually end in the designation of all parts of Hezbollah as a terrorist group in the German system.”
He said if the institute’s diplomatic warfare operation proves successful, the effect will be a weaker Hezbollah that could prevent war on Israel’s northern border – without a single bullet shot and no boots on the ground.
“What we are doing could be an effective way to deflate or stop the next war with Lebanon where Hezbollah’s actions create more orphans,” Prosor said.
He said that although on a government-to-government level Israel has stepped up its game, when it comes to civil society’s involvement and influence on political efforts, unlike Israel’s security organizations, the Israeli foreign service has yet to implement the incorporation of this sector into their efforts – and that’s what the institute is trying to do. Nonetheless, when it comes to Israel’s intelligence and military strength, it is still a world leader as 70 years after its creation, the State of Israel continues to confront unrelenting threats to its security, its economy, its legitimacy and its existence.
“New methods and more diverse tools being used on the diplomatic front will achieve more comprehensive and meaningful outcomes,” he said.
This article was written in cooperation with the Abba Eban Institute.