Deputy Minister's aide holds talks with Syria opposition, presents himself as 'official' Israeli envoy
Meeting between Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara’s bureau chief, Syrian dissidents takes place in Bulgaria; FM Lieberman demands Netanyahu reprimand Kara.
Why is Deputy Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ayoob Kara’s bureau chief traveling around world presenting himself as the State of Israel's envoy in charge of dialogue with the Syrian opposition?
This is exactly the question that Israel’s Ambassador to Bulgaria Shaul Kamisa asked in a harsh cable he sent recently to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.
Kara’s bureau chief Mandi Safadi arrived in Sofia three weeks ago. A press release issued by Kara’s bureau before the trip stated that the deputy minister had been invited to meet with people from the Syrian opposition at the parliament in Sofia, but since he was unable to go himself he was sending his bureau chief in his stead.
The embarrassing events that followed were detailed in the ambassador's cable, dispatched on August 13 under the heading “Conduct requiring examination and action – Is Mr. Safadi the deputy minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee? Diplomatic involvement?”
“Two and a half weeks ago Mr. Safadi phoned and identified himself to the secretary as the deputy minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee,” wrote the ambassador. “In a conversation with me he identified himself as an aide to and envoy of Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara who intends to visit Bulgaria as Kara’s envoy to deal with contact and cooperation with the Syrian opposition in Bulgaria, through a number of meetings with parliamentarians.”
Kamisa inquired as to whether Deputy Minister Kara’s bureau chief was sent an official representative of the government of Israel, and made it clear that if so he had to coordinate his visit through the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Only after I receive confirmation from the Foreign Minister will I cooperate with your visit, Kamisa told Safadi.
In the cable, Kamisa wrote that from that point on he had no further contact with Kara’s bureau chief. However, a week later the embassy received a phone call from the editorial offices of The Standard, the second largest newspaper in Bulgaria. The reporter told the embassy press officer that he had conducted an interview with Safadi, who presented himself as an official envoy of the State of Israel working on cooperation with the Syrian opposition.
“The informing of the embassy and the understanding of the gravity of the interview prior to its publication and the damage that was liable to be caused as a result of this led the undersigned and the embassy staff to apply pressure on the newspaper editorial offices to stop the distribution of the interview,” wrote Kamisa in the cable. “The pressure was successful and the report was not published.”
Kamisa added that he had made it clear to the editors that Safadi “was working solely on his own and without any connection or coordination with the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem or with the embassy.”
Kamisa also reported that Safadi had showed up at the home of the bus driver who was killed in the terror attack in Burgas and introduced himself to the family as an official representative of the government of Israel.
“I recommend examining whether Mr. Safadi is indeed an official employee of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee and what his status and authority are concerning diplomatic activities and sensitive issues like liaison and mediation vis-à-vis the Syrian opposition in Bulgaria,” wrote Kamisa.
The ambassador is considered to be close to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who named him to his as a political appointment. According to a Foreign Ministry source, when Kamisa’s cable reached Lieberman, the foreign minister reacted angrily, briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded that he reprimand Deputy Minister Kara.
A few months earlier, Lieberman had already sent Netanyahu a letter of complaint against Kara in the wake of a series of meetings the latter held in Austria with representatives of an extreme right-wing party whose members are perceived by the Jewish community and the Israeli Embassy as identified with a neo-Nazi ideology.
At that time Netanyahu did not reprimand Kara, but this time he could not ignore Lieberman’s complaint. Netanyahu spoke with Kara, reprimanded him and stressed that he must avoid such conduct in the future.
On Wednesday, I phoned both Deputy Minister Kara and his bureau chief Mandi Safadi to get their version of the incident. Contrary to the press release issued by his bureau prior to Safadi’s trip, in conversation Kara denied any connection to his bureau chief’s trip. He insisted that Safadi had indeed gone to Bulgaria as an official representative of the State of Israel. “My aide was sent to Sofia on behalf of elements in the government, but not on my behalf,” he maintained.
Subsequently, Kara modified his version a bit. “My aide was invited by the Bulgarian Parliament for a discussion of the Syrian issue and met with persons who cannot be spoken about publicly,” said the deputy minister. “I don’t want to talk about this because it is a sensitive matter. These are things one doesn’t talk about in the media. I am not a party to this at all and it was not done on my behalf.”
Kara’s bureau chief Mandi Safadi also insisted that his trip to Bulgaria, along with his meeting with Syrian opposition figures, were conducted at the behest of an unnamed government body.
“There are things the ambassador doesn’t know,” Safadi told me. “There are also things I do that Deputy Minister Kara doesn’t know about, which I can’t expand on in the media. If, in addition to his official position, a public servant can do service for another body that belongs to the same government, then he does it.”
Safadi, a native of the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, claimed to have extensive connections with the Syrian opposition and hinted that, in the past, he had organized meetings between the foreign minister and Syrian opposition figures.
“When Lieberman wanted me to organize meetings for him he had no problem,” said Safadi. “I do not intend to expand on with whom and about what.”
Safadi also claimed that, contrary to what the ambassador claimed, he had in fact informed people at the Foreign Ministry about his trip to Bulgaria and had also briefed Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon about his talks upon his return to Israel.
According to Safadi, the ambassador’s letter of complaint stemmed solely from egoistic motives. “I informed the ambassador of my trip and my timetable,” said Safadi. “What angered the ambassador was the publication of my visit to the family of the driver who was killed in the attack in Burgas. His ego got the better of him and he sent a cable that has no basis in truth.”
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.