When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited New York at the beginning of last month, members of his entourage were surprised when his secretary called out that there was an urgent phone call from the White House. "Condy Rice is looking for Arie Genger," she said. Those present could not figure out why the U.S. national security adviser was interested in calling a private Israeli businessman, a close friend of Sharon, when the prime minister himself was in the hotel and could be called to the telephone.
It was not by chance that Condoleezza Rice was seeking out Genger. Over the past few months, Genger has become the most important channel of communication between Sharon and the Bush administration. He speaks often to Secretary of State Colin Powell and to Rice. Political messages are passed back and forth via him, and the contents of the calls are written down and passed on to Sharon's top advisers. It was Genger who presented Sharon's diplomatic plan to the heads of the administration on the eve of the visit.
Sharon's predecessors also used "private" middlemen and messengers in their ties with Washington, but in the past, these were American Jews who generally had standing in the president's party. Genger was chosen because of his ties with the Israeli side: He has been one of the people closest to Sharon for years, and was there for him not only during his victories, but also when he was in the political backwater. About 20 years ago, Sharon, who was then defense minister, planned to make Genger coordinator of security exports for the ministry, but the appointment did not go through, and Genger remained a private businessman. Now that Sharon has become prime minister, his good friend has a key role in Israel's foreign affairs, even without an official title.
The "Genger channel" was opened up during the Clinton administration. Sharon was then-foreign minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's government, and he needed both a secret meeting place for contacts with the Syrians and the Lebanese and a direct connection with the American administration. The solution was Genger. His New York apartment became the place where Sharon held secret meetings, and reports were forwarded by the host. When George W. Bush took over the presidency a year ago, the administration officials passed on Genger's telephone number to their successors with a recommendation to continue using it.
For Sharon, Genger is the ideal way to pass on messages and hold discreet consultations with senior administration officials. There is total trust between them and there are no leaks. Everything is reported back to Sharon without involving Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who receives reports from the Washington embassy. Genger speaks directly with top officials, a privilege not enjoyed by Israel's formal representatives, who have to go through accepted diplomatic channels.
The Americans also find the Genger channel convenient. The talks with him are not formal and do not have to be reported to diplomats in Washington or the Arab world. They also leave no formal documentation that could be leaked. When Powell wanted to rebuke Sharon for not allowing PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to attend Christmas mass in Bethlehem, he telephoned Genger. In this way there was no diplomatic incident and no "American pressure on Israel."
The private channel is not completely cut off from official contacts between the countries: There is a certain linkage between them. Sharon told Ambassador David Ivry to meet Genger, give him a briefing about who's who, and open doors for him in Washington. Some of the senior officials in Jerusalem also know about Genger's role.
Genger was born in Tel Aviv 56 years ago and emigrated to the U.S. after doing his army service. He originally joined another Israeli businessman there, Meshulam Riklis, before branching out on his own. Today he heads a firm called Trans Resources. In 1985, he bought Haifa Chemicals. The chairman of the board of Haifa Chemicals is currently Avi Pelosoff, who is married to Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff.
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