An unconventional missive hits Jerusalem

Tamir's letter's one of the most important cables sent by an Israeli diplomat this year - or decade.

alon liel 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
alon liel 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is sitting right in front of me. A three-page cable from Boston to Jerusalem sent by consul-general Nadav Tamir expressing concern for Israel's international image following recent clashes with the US administration. I have read secret diplomatic cables for 30 years and I can testify that this is the kind of report professional diplomacy was created for. Without seeing the current diplomatic correspondence (as I am no longer a government official), I can say that this is one of the most important cables sent by an Israeli diplomat this year - or maybe even this decade. Because of its strategic importance, its depth and its sharpness, the Israeli government has been treating it as if an 'unconventional missile' hit Jerusalem. I JOINED the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1971. Abba Eban was still heading our diplomacy efforts and legendary diplomats like Walter Eytan and Arthur Lurie were teaching us the nuances of the diplomatic profession. As a cadet you are taught that your professional assessment has an important added value. You are asked to report what you see and what you hear, and add your best interpretation - sometimes more important than the data itself. Nadav Tamir did exactly what a professional diplomat is expected to do. He did it knowing that the political echelon in Jerusalem would not like his report. He found the need to convey his truth to Jerusalem, hoping that, at least in the long run, his professional analysis would benefit his country. Tamir should be summoned to the ministry in Israel and invited to address its board on the content of his cable. The ministry should devote a special session to the deteriorating relations with Washington. If he is to be punished instead, we might as well close the Ministry of Foreign Affairs altogether. We already have a new information ministry, just established, that can easily take over. If Tamir is to be punished, we should just stop spending the taxpayers' money on expensive embassies and residences all over the world, and on armored cars for our ambassadors. If politicians start telling diplomats what to report from their different destinations, that would be the 'kiss of death' to our diplomatic service. LESS THAN two years ago, the Winograd Committee published its findings on the Israeli government's decision-making process prior to and during the Second Lebanon War. The conclusion was clear: Israel must incorporate the input of civilian officials into the decision-making process; The research and planning units of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be strengthened; The access of top diplomats to the decision makers should be widely paved and a senior diplomat should be present at every cabinet meeting dealing with security and foreign affairs. The committee members realized that there is simply not enough professional diplomatic input into the official decision-making process. Politicians and generals often see only part of the relevant scene - they will always attribute greater importance to internal political pressure and, of course, to the immediate military and terror threats. These same people usually tend to ignore other important parts of the decision-making scene, such as international norms and expectations and especially the conflict management tools provided by the international community. Politicians are not sufficiently aware of the global diplomatic mechanism, a limitation that often cripples the decision-making process. Let's take a look at what is happening in the highest Israeli echelons only two years later. A clear message is being sent to our professional diplomats - 'Shut up!! Tell us only what we want to hear. Bring us only the "good news".' So what did Nadav Tamir say that warranted such fierce responses from the Israeli government? He simply said that the sharing of traditional values which has characterized and guided the wonderful American-Israeli relationship is being damaged daily, harming the quality and intimacy of that relationship. He quoted Aaron Miller, one of America's top diplomats, as saying that while Obama says "Yes we can," Netanyahu answers "No you can't." Our leadership in Israel is colliding with an extremely popular American president and with a superpower whose approval rating is increasing all over the world except in Israel. Go ahead, Nadav Tamir. You are a talented and courageous diplomat. What you did will help Israel, even if we both know it won't happen right away. The writer was the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2000-2001.