Israel Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer and US Ambassador Kurtzner Discuss Current Relations

Tel Aviv----October 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.

Israel's 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:

Mr. Minister 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!"

"All that 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".

Kurtzner responded: "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".