The Arena | Ofer Shelach

Ofer Shelach

MK and Chairman of the "Yesh Atid" party. Member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Chairman of the Security Oversight and Force Development subcommittee. In the 20 years prior to his entry into politics in 2013, worked as a journalist and political commentator in several leading Israeli television channels and newspapers.

What is the most significant advantage Israeli diplomacy currently enjoys?

The foreign service staff consists of dedicated and talented people who believe in the righteousness of their cause, and are doing the utmost with what few resources thay have at their disposal.

Photo: Elad Gutman, courtesy of the author

What is the greatest disadvantage that Israeli diplomacy suffers from?

The contempt in which previous governments, and particularly the current one, holds the foreign service. This government has parceled out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ powers as political boons to entirely superfluous ministries. In the state budget of 2019, although other ministries enjoyed considerable budget increases, the MFA’s was slashed. This makes it even more difficult for the Ministry to carry out its duties, and to retain professional and talented people. The Ministry needs a full-time Foreign Minister who will truly care for the vital service with which he has been entrusted, rather than seeing his role as one which simply allows him to travel abroad.

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

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, has recently declared the withdrawal of American forces from Syria. Following Syrian President Bashar el Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own citizens, the United States Permanent Representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, then stated that her country intends to remain engaged in Syria until all its goals were met. 
Israel must take advantage of this golden opportunity to secure the role of the United States and the West as significant actors in the broader Middle East, and particularly in Syria. Otherwise, we risk a direct confrontation with Iran. 
We cannot allow our region to be shaped by external forces - some of them hostile towards us - without having our own interests represented. This situation is highly volatile, and a withdrawal from the region by the United States and the West will have severe repercussions on Israel.

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

The fact that there is no full-time Foreign Minister is extremely damaging to Israeli diplomacy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may brag about his meetings with world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the results of these meetings are known to all. Aside from photo-ops, these meetings have done little to advance Israel’s interests in the Middle East.
Several months ago I submitted a bill in Knesset to secure the role of Israel’s foreign service - a proposal that my colleague, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, had undersigned in the previous Knesset. Regretfully, the Parliament failed to support this law, despite its immense importance.

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