Britain's first Jewish ambassador-designate to Israel, Matthew Gould, wasn't too connected to his Jewish roots - until he served in Tehran. "Being posted in Iran made me go to shul more regularly," the 37-year-old diplomat from London said yesterday over the phone, in a first interview for the Israeli press ahead of his arrival next year to replace Tom Philips.

"I did it to reach out to the Jewish community in Iran and to show that Western embassies were watching out for its welfare," Gould explains. "I was determined to go to shul to show both the Jewish community and the Iranian authorities that I was Jewish and not embarrassed of it."

Gould says that his two-year stint through 2005 in Tehran as deputy head of mission has given him "a real expertise in an issue of profound security importance to Israel."

The religious process that began in Tehran continued in Britain. "I got more active [with Judaism] and over the last couple of years I've spent a lot more time and a lot more thought on my Jewish identity and what it means to be Jewish," says Gould.

Another factor that brings the high-flying diplomat - who currently serves as chief-of-staff for Foreign Secretary David Miliband - to contemplate his background, was his recent marriage to Celia Leaberry Gould, who is not Jewish. "As a result of thinking about, applying and getting this job, and also because of my marriage, I ended up being much clearer in my mind about my Jewish identity," says Gould, who studied theology at Cambridge.

Although he specifically asked to serve in Israel, Gould says this was not because he was Jewish. "I did it for a range of reasons and because I would be dealing with issues of critical importance to Britain, the region and beyond."

Gould and his wife go to shul every week at the West London Synagogue, where services follow the prayer books of the Movement for Reform Judaism. As a child, Gould recalls going to Middlesex New Synagogue in Harrow with his parents, who still live in London as "proud but inactive" members of the Jewish community, as he describes them.

In Israel, Gould says he and his wife "will keep a Jewish household," and "bring up their kids in the Jewish tradition," when those children are born. Gould knows some parts of Israel, from his visits here as a child, when he would occasionally go to the Liberal Movement's Kadima summer camp. He also has family - second and third cousins - in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

"The fact that I'm Jewish means I will come with a particular insight and sympathy and understanding, because the story of my family is in certain respects the story of the people of the State of Israel," he says. "But fundamentally I'm going as the British ambassador, to pursue British policies and advance British interests."

A possible Conservative victory over Labour in the general election next year will not affect Gould's position, he says. "In our system, this is not an issue. Ambassadors are non-partisan."

Familiar though he is with the Tel Aviv coastline, Gould has never been inside the embassy building on Hayarkon Street. "Someone told me there's a view of a hotel," he said. But he added that he remains hopeful for a view of the Mediterranean Sea.