In most cases, a country’s foreign minister is responsible for furthering his nation’s economic and political interests abroad. Not in Israel. In that country, the current foreign minister seems responsible for hectoring any country he deems insufficiently supportive of Israel; and in a few instances like Egypt and Turkey he seems hell-bent on destroying relations altogether.
How else to explain the bizarre performance yesterday by Danny Ayalon, deputy Israeli foreign minister and capo di tutti of Avigdor Lieberman, at which he brusquely summoned the Turkish ambassador for a brushing down, and in a highly unusual move summoned press photographers to record the humiliation and pointedly noted that the ambassador was sitting in a lower position than the Israelis and that the latter refused to shake his hand. Here is how Yediot reported the story:
When the ambassador was finally asked to enter the room, his hosts instructed him to sit on a low couch opposite the higher chairs in which they were seated. The hosts, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Europe, Naor Gilon [ed., and suspected Steven Rosen intelligence conduit], and Ayalon’s office director, David Segal did not smile at their guest and refused to shake his hand.
When the photographers suggested a handshake, the Foreign Ministry officials refused. “That is precisely the issue,” said Ayalon. Ayalon made sure that no one could have any doubts that the humiliation of the ambassador was anything but deliberate: “The important thing is that people see that he’s low and we’re high and that there is one flag here,” he said to the photographers.
I have taken it upon myself to make one final effort to prevent war.
– No kidding? – I’ve talked to Ambassador Trentino, and he says Sylvania doesn’t want war either.
…I’ve taken the liberty of asking the ambassador to come over here. Because we both felt that a friendly conference would settle everything peacefully. He’ll be here any moment.
Mrs. Teasdale…I’d be only too happy to meet Ambassador Trentino and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit in which it is offered.
But suppose he doesn’t. A fine thing that’ll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept it. That’ll add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador! Who does he think he is that he can come here and make a sap out of me in front of my people?
Think of it. I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept it. Why, the cheap four-flushing swine! He’ll never get away with it, I tell you! He’ll never get away with it!
…So, you refuse to shake hands with me, eh?
Mrs. Teasdale, this is the last straw! There’s no turning back now! This means war!
Then it’s war!
I wonder whether Bibi Netanyahu, when he appointed Lieberman, realized what he was getting was closer to opera buffa than real diplomacy. Of course, this performance (which is precisely what it is) brings nothing but ridicule on Israel. Nations of the world wonder whether the Marx Brothers are running the MFA, instead of professional diplomats.
The Bibi scandal sheet, Yisrael HaYom revels in the political grandstanding with this brazen ‘Height of Humiliation’ photo.
What makes this even more buffoonish is that Lieberman is willing to create this international incident in order to score cheap domestic political points against a rival. Ehud Barak is scheduled for a major visit to Ankara this weekend. What better way to screw up the Labor Party leader’s efforts to get Syria-Israel negotiations back on track than to poison the well even before Barak arrives.
I’ve always felt that Israeli politics resembles an alligator wrestling pit more than anything else and this story confirms it. I’m afraid the analogy to an alligator pit may be doing these noble ancient beasts a disservice.
Turkey’s prime minister however, is a real national leader and no fool. He’s not playing this as opera and refuses to allow his ambassador to be publicly humiliated. Remember this is the same Erdogan who at Davos dressed down the incipiently senile Shimon Peres when the latter attempted to defend the Gaza war using the most bombastic propaganda. Now Erdogan is kickin’ butt and takin’ down names:
Turkey demanded an apology from Israel on Tuesday over what it called the discourteous treatment of its ambassador, further souring ties between the two regional powers on the eve of a visit by Israel’s defence minister.
…”We expect an explanation and apologies from Israeli authorities for the attitude against our Tel Aviv ambassador Oguz Celikkol, and the way this attitude was reflected,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
“We call on the Israeli Foreign Ministry, whose behaviour and attitude towards our Tel Aviv Ambassador did not comply with diplomacy, to obey courtesy rules,” it said.
The MFA seemed to enjoy the tit for tat and responded with vintage hasbara:
“The Turks are the last people who can preach morality to the State of Israel and the IDF, which is the most moral army in the world.”
UPDATE: Ayalon has “apologized” for his behavior with a statement that typically lacks any crediblity:
…”It is not my way to insult foreign ambassadors and in the future I will clarify my position by more acceptable diplomatic means.”