Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer and US Ambassador Kurtzner Discuss
23......It was one of those rare moments in politics and journalism
where two very friendly but arguing States were forced to converge
in front of the public. Much like a married couple putting on false
smiles as they entered a therapist's office.
At the Israel Forum's International Hi-Tech Summit in Tel Aviv this
morning both Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and U.S.
Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzner shared the same dais. In fact
the two men were sitting side by side. The backdrop: an Israeli
Hi-Tech conference offering words of wisdom to the Israeli and global
Hi-Tech industries. The real backdrop: the US State Department
demanding that the IDF withdraw their forces immediately from the
West Bank and the Israeli government refusing these demands based
upon basic principles of self-defense.
Minister had just concluded a speech that was anything but Hi-Tech
- addressing the current wave of terrorism for which Israel has
been subjected to and offering suggestions as to how Israel and
the world community should be countering global terrorism. As the
Defense Minister finished speaking the moderator stated to the audience
that the Minister would take just one question. Silence fell upon
the seated crowd of approximately 300 participants. Going into this
panel discussion, the INA knew that the topic here was not
Hi-Tech but rather the delicate behavioral science between these
two countries. Just as the moderator was about to introduce the
US Ambassador, the INA gathered the courage to stand up and
ask what all were wondering, without creating an international incident
or embarrassing either party:
and Mr. Ambassador in light of all the statements coming out of
Washington and Jerusalem within the past 12 hours, have the two
of you shared a cup of coffee in the past few hours to discuss current
events and how Israel and the United States are fighting terrorism
together, standing side by side?
Both Ben-Eliezer and Kurtzner, whose body language until now said
"not comfortable" burst into laughter.
"We speak every night", said the Israeli Defense Minister,
now grinning at a smiling Kurtzner. "In fact, I took a helicopter
to see him (the Ambassador) this morning!"
Israel wants is peace. Israel and the United States like any two
very close friends sometimes share differing opinions, but one must
recognize that Israel's only goal today is to act in self-defense."
Ben-Eliezer continued: " Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered
Arafat 97 percent of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem and Arafat
simply turned his back on this offer. Today we face terrorism, in
exactly the same manner as the United States is facing terrorism
against it's citizens - it's men, woman and children. We must together
fight an uncompromising war against terrorism. And we hope that
the United States will continue to carry the flag for all nations
in this battle".
"I totally agree. Israel has no better friend than the United
States and yes - Israel is a part of the coalition against terrorism.
In fact, I want to compliment the Israeli government for recently
taking action in freezing the financial assets of those terrorist
organizations that are based in this immediate region."
"The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel.
Violence and terrorism against Israel must stop. Last week we condemned
the assassination of your Tourism Minister. We stated that you must
exercise your right to self-defense - but you must also talk as
you defend yourselves."
Now that the
US Ambassador had skillfully created and illustrated a warm and
friendly diplomatic bridge in front of this group of hardware and
software specialists, he made sure to repeat US policy: "The
State Department message speaks for itself". And with those
cold, sterile words we were all back to first base. Both men had
made it very clear that two channels existed. One which was public,
kissing and even marital spats for all to see and one which is covert,
where defense officials were constantly speaking and visiting each
other on both sides of the Atlantic. As Kurtzner described it: "two
steady streams exist between these two nations."
So now we all started to feel a bit better. But not for long. As
Kurtzner departed the stage, former GSS Director and Cellcom General
Manager Yackov Perry took his turn in addressing the audience. What
one gathered from his remarks were that both nations were sharing
information within these "two steady streams" with one
another but that the flow of communication was not presently as
open as it could or should be between both parties.
As you are presently
reading this account, both Ben-Eliezer and Kurtzner are now probably
sharing good food, good drink and good laughs - for as friends in
the Middle-East, arguments between couples usually transcend into
smiles and hugs within minutes and hours. In this "hot blooded"
and warm, family oriented Middle-Eastern culture, it is normal to
speak straight from the gut and disagree, for out of honest disagreement
comes understanding, trust and respect.
As Ben-Elizer gently reminded Kurtzner this morning: "One has
to feel what we are going through here - not just understand it".