The Arena | Matan Vilnai

Matan Vilnai

Major General (res.) and Israeli ambassador to China, head of the Israel-China program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Served for 36 years in the IDF and retired after holding the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff. Was elected to serve as a Member of Knesset for the Labor Party and held the portfolios of Minister of Science, Culture, and Sports, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Minister of Homefront Defense.

What is the most significant advantage Israeli diplomacy currently enjoys?

Our main strength lies with our diplomatic corps, from veteran diplomats to young, dedicated cadets. Though I have few kind words for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it nevertheless employs highly qualified people, both in headquarters and as overseas delegates. The most important positions are generally staffed by very capable ambassadors and delegates.

What is the greatest disadvantage that Israeli diplomacy suffers from?

The greatest weakness of Israeli diplomacy is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself. It has little standing as a government office, and few listen to it. Sadly, it also lacks proper organization, long-term planning, and sound plans of action – both on its strategic and personnel level. Its diplomats abroad get the job done to the best of their knowledge and understanding, but not as part of a coordinated system. Unfortunately, there is no organizational learning, which in itself is very disturbing.

What do you think is the most important opportunity Israeli diplomacy currently has?

These days matters of the foreign policy arena are no longer viewed strictly through a military prism, offering the Ministry the opportunity to actually have its voice heard. Such a reality allows diplomacy to bear enormous influence, but it must be exercised properly and effectively.

What is the central challenge and/or threat Israeli diplomacy faces?

The two are intertwined, seeing there is a very complex system on Israel’s northern front as a result of the civil war in Syria and the of global powers. Every important actor is involved there at one level or another. Thus, diplomatic maneuvering vis-à-vis Russia, the Iranians, and of course the United States is of tremendous importance.


The heightened tension between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the one hand, and Iran and its proxies (Hizballah and, to a degree, also Hamas) on the other – coupled with a pro-Israeli American president – can be leveraged to strengthen support for our fight against terrorism.


The damage to Israel’s legitimacy worldwide, including constant attempts to tarnish our public image and question our right to exist – what has become known as the BDS campaign – is a classic example of a threat requiring the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Regretfully, since it lacks influence and stature, the government has delegated this mission to several other ministries and agencies.

Navigate
Search Site
Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And stay up to date with the latest articles, briefs, and op-eds by leading experts from Israel and abroad