Reda Mansour
Poet, Historian, Diplomat

Where is the Israeli diplomacy

Times of war are always times of diplomacy and the war in Gaza is no exception. Many diplomatic activities are happening simultaneously and one thing is clear by now the Israeli foreign ministry is absent again. This means a weaker Israeli hand and less creativity in the negotiations.

Israel lacks a strong diplomatic arm that can lead on the strategic level. Diplomatic negotiations cannot be left in the hands of generals and politicians. When that happens, they tend to become tactical and technical. The negotiators lack the historical depth and the cultural codes that allow you to understand the symbols that drive the other side. Without this understanding, much of the flexibility and creativity is lost.

When Israel wants to speak to the Americans it sends Minister Ron Dermer and Tzachi Hanegbi the head of the Israeli National Defense Council to Washington. When it negotiates with Hamas, it sends General Nitzan Alon and Chief of Mussad to Qatar, and when it coordinates with the Egyptians, it sends General Ghassan Alian the chief coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza.

At every negotiation table, there is a need for an experienced diplomat who is an expert in that region. This diplomat can listen to what is said and how it is being said. Additionally, experienced diplomats can pay attention to what is not said. This way we can understand better what the other side needs and not assume that the two sides attach the same importance to different issues.

The Israeli diplomatic service has been pushed out of the pre-war or after-war diplomacy for many years. Men in uniforms replaced diplomats in most of the important negotiations. Some generals got used to leading the diplomatic efforts and did not see anything wrong with this situation. They think that diplomats are bureaucrats who work in embassies abroad and that this is their job. Sadly these military leaders don’t even know how helpful diplomats can be in conflict resolution.

Historically, in Israel, this unique model was created because the foreign minister is the rival of the prime minister. In most countries, the leaders appoint their most trusted people to this job. To keep the Foreign Minister out and fully control the process Israeli Prime ministers preferred to use the military and the security services for diplomatic missions and sensitive negotiations.

The generals and the security agencies loved this setting that allowed them to set foot in this prestigious field. More importantly Arab partners love it because their relationship with Israel is complicated and does not have much popular support, so if they can keep it quiet in between the security services their people will not complain.

The absence of Israeli diplomats from the negotiants with Arab parties meant a lose-lose situation. The end goal of diplomacy is peace not merely a ceasefire. However, for generals and security operators, the ceasefire is usually enough. For them anything that is not an active war is sufficient. The problem with this approach is that it is unstable. The next war becomes just a matter of time.

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Diplomacy is an ancient profession with a lot of tradition. Diplomats never stop learning throughout their careers. Living in different countries, learning languages, ​​and delving deeper into cultures to develop mental flexibility and creative ways to solve problems and achieve goals.

That is why even if you cannot reach peace and the ceasefire is your best option, diplomats can add mechanisms that prepare for future peace and make wars less likely. War is too important to be left to the generals, “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires” said Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France. He said that about the Great War of 1917 and today, we know that the ending of that war prepared the conditions for World War II. So today we say negotiations need professional diplomats and cannot be entrusted to security operatives only.

About the Author
Reda Mansour holds a Ph.D. from Haifa University where his doctoral work focused on the intellectual history of modern Syria. He also holds a master's degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and speaks five languages. Mansour was a visiting professor at Haifa University and Emory University in Atlanta. He has served as the Ambassador of Israel to Brazil, Ambassador to Panama, Ambassador to Ecuador, Deputy Ambassador in Portugal, Consul General of Israel in Atlanta, and Consul in San Francisco; at age 35 he was the youngest Ambassador in Israel's history, and the first Druze-Arab career diplomat.
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