Lieberman shifting focus from Palestinians to Iran
New goals were unveiled at a secret meeting last week.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman convened a clandestine meeting in a Jerusalem hotel about a week ago with several senior officials in his ministry. The purpose of the meeting, which was kept secret from most Foreign Ministry personnel, was to begin an internal reform of the ministry. Lieberman's principal message to the participants was that instead of being preoccupied with the Palestinians, the ministry should wage an international campaign against Iran and engage in public diplomacy that would rehabilitate Israel's international status.
The meeting, attended by about 15 diplomats who were carefully chosen by Director General Yossi Gal, lasted several hours. At it, Lieberman, Gal and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon explained that they want to reevaluate the ministry's role in light of the current international situation and then change both the deployment of Israel's diplomatic missions abroad and the structure of the ministry's staff in Jerusalem accordingly. Lieberman also emphasized that he intends to be personally involved in the process.
At this initial discussion, Lieberman presented several basic assumptions that guide his approach, the most important of which is that on the Palestinian issue, the Foreign Ministry does not have much to contribute, as the Defense Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service all outrank it on this issue. Another assumption was that Israel's problem lies not in its relations with foreign leaders or other foreign ministries, but in international public opinion.
Therefore, Lieberman wants the ministry to concentrate the bulk of its efforts on public diplomacy, which is the modern version of public relations. One idea is to establish an umbrella division for public diplomacy that would include the departments of media and public affairs; cultural and scientific ties; and Mashav - the Center for International Cooperation, which handles Israeli assistance to the Third World.
Aviv Shir-On, the ministry's deputy director general for media and public affairs, has submitted recommendations to Lieberman on the subject of public diplomacy. One recommendation was to focus on public relations activity using new technologies - for example, by assigning certain diplomats to engage in public relations via Internet platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Tweeter.
Another idea discussed at the meeting was to raise the profile of Israel's public diplomacy on the Iranian threat. A special "project director" would be appointed for that purpose, and would receive a separate budget, totaling several million dollars, to direct public relations activities against Iran via Israel's diplomatic missions worldwide. Lieberman is also interested in continuing the "Israeli branding" project, an attempt to improve Israel's "brand" that began during the tenure of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Yet another idea is strengthening Israel's diplomatic and economic ties with four countries that are considered rising stars: Brazil, Russia, India and China. To that end, new diplomatic missions will be opened in these countries, including two due to be opened soon in Sao Paulo, Brazil and St. Petersburg, Russia. In addition, the number of diplomats in those countries will be increased.
The ministry will also devote more effort to strengthening ties with Jewish communities abroad.
Gal has appointed a task force headed by another deputy director general, Rafi Barak, to submit recommendations on how to alter the structure of the ministry's staff in accordance with whatever new goals are ultimately adopted. The ministry has already received a budget increase and 100 new staff positions, 40 of them for professional diplomats, which were allocated for the purpose of opening new diplomatic missions abroad or bolstering existing ones. Some of this additional funding and staff will now be used to carry out the reform.