Starting-up Israeli diplomacy

Israel’s foreign service needs the type of strategic thinking that can help its leaders reach better decisions.

UNITED NATIONS Ambassador Ron Prosor addresses the UN General Assembly. (photo credit: CHIP EAST / REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS Ambassador Ron Prosor addresses the UN General Assembly.
(photo credit: CHIP EAST / REUTERS)
For Ron Prosor, the most important outcome of Israel’s upcoming elections will not be the party that receives the most seats in the Knesset or the name of the politician who becomes prime minister. Rather, for Prosor, head of the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at IDC Herzliya, the most crucial consequence of the voting will be the identity of Israel’s next foreign minister.
Prosor is one of Israel’s most seasoned diplomats, having served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations (2011-2015), Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom (2007-2011), and director general of the Foreign Ministry (2004-2007). He explains that over the past decade, the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic corps have been hindered from fully fulfilling their natural role in conducting Israel’s foreign policy. Many of its responsibilities have been assigned to other governmental agencies, he explains, and its budget has been cut. Perhaps most significantly, Prosor adds, the government has not had the services of a full-time foreign minister, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has filled that post since 2015.
“A ministry that is supposed to be a significant component in the national security of the country has been emptied of its content,” Prosor says.
Yaniv Cohen, executive director of the Abba Eban Institute, who has had extensive experience in international corporate law, operations, strategy and development, explains the importance of the upcoming election from the standpoint of Israel’s foreign policy.
“The upcoming elections are very significant and present a major opportunity to make a basic change in Israel’s Foreign Service. This change needs to manifest itself in two areas. First, Israel needs to have a full-time foreign minister. Any politician who sees himself as the next foreign minister needs to put this on the agenda.
Second, after the election, the next foreign minister needs to demand – as part of the coalition negotiations – that the Foreign Ministry will receive the proper budget and undergo necessary reforms, in addition to a restoration of his authority in the decision-making process. If this is not arranged beforehand, the next foreign minister will not succeed.”
The Abba Eban Institute at IDC’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy – which bears the name of one of Israel’s most storied and eloquent diplomats – is an apolitical research institute that has taken the lead in developing thoughtful and innovative strategies to counter the diplomatic challenges which confront Israel today. 
“We have crafted a complete new perception for the Israeli Foreign Service that is based not just on our own personal diplomatic experience, but is taken from the extensive international research that we have conducted of other diplomatic services,” says Prosor.
The institute’s activities are centered on three main channels: the Diplomatic Counter-Terrorism Desk, which counters anti-Israel trends throughout the world; the Academic Desk, which utilizes the research and academic tools of the IDC to influence public opinion; and the Diplomacy 2030 Desk, which is attempting to reinvigorate Israel’s Foreign Service and restore its standing within the national decision-making process.
Lea Landman, head of the Diplomacy 2030 Desk, explains that the Institute’s innovative Diplomatic Accelerator, similar to accelerator programs in the world of hi-tech, applies tools and new means of thinking to diplomacy and the Foreign Service. It is also studying how technology such as big data can be used in diplomacy to analyze and predict the actions of countries and different groups.
PROSOR EXPLAINS that the Foreign Service needs to be based on the type of strategic thinking that can help the country’s leaders reach better strategic decisions. “If Israel is in the midst of a military operation, the Foreign Ministry needs to be able to provide the prime minister with a list of alternatives and possible actions,” he explains. “We can provide good military or intelligence responses to Hezbollah, but we don’t have any political strategy in place against them.”
Today, the Foreign Ministry has no definitive political objectives or measurable goals, says Prosor. Recalling Golda Meir’s tenure as foreign minister (1956-1966), when she initiated Israel’s policy of cooperation with the newly independent nations of Africa and increased ties with Latin America, Prosor mentions, “We sent kibbutznikim and moshavnikim to Africa and South America. Our best friends in the United Nations are those who we reached, and whom we touched, in their hearts and minds.”
Additionally, he says, Israel’s foreign policy is lacking creativity and innovative thinking.
Prosor adds that Israel’s diplomatic and foreign policy requirements are different from those of other countries, because for Israel, security and military considerations have always been uppermost. But, he says, on a diplomatic level, the world is getting more complicated.
“Because of the force of international law, the world community can bring Israel to its knees.” During his tenure as Israeli ambassador to the UK, Prosor had to counter the arrest warrants that were issued by British courts against Tzipi Livni and others in the Israeli leadership at the time, due to their roles in Israel’s military activities.
“Israel does not invest sufficiently in its diplomatic role in the international environment,” he says, “and doesn’t provide enough diplomatic ‘ammunition’ to its missions around the world.” These failures, he says, stem from the Foreign Ministry’s reduced budget and influence in the decision-making process. Cohen adds, “All of our wars always end with a foreign policy act. If there is no one in the room with diplomatic abilities, in the end, we are hurting our own efforts.”
Echoing Cohen’s words about the upcoming election, Prosor says, “This is the opportunity to bring up the subject for Israel’s next foreign minister – in the coalition negotiations after the elections – the Foreign Service, budgets, and authority, and a place around the table, must be part of the agenda. It is important.”
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy will continue its efforts to improve and advance the quality of Israel’s diplomatic efforts around the world. Says Ron Prosor, “An effective Foreign Service is one that knows to promote the advantages of Israel to the world. We can leverage all of the good that is in this country so that Israel can be a light to the nations, and will be a member in the community of nations. These are not just clichés. It is really possible. We want to set up a new and effective Foreign Ministry that will serve the national security of the country, according to the challenge of the 2000s. Let’s be the Start-Up Nation in the world of diplomacy.”

This article was written in cooperation with the Abba Eban Institute.