The Foreign Ministry last week opened its first “virtual embassy” – a Twitter account through which it hopes to conduct a dialogue with the people of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
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The new account is called Israel in the GCC – the Gulf Cooperation Council, an umbrella group for every Arab state in the Gulf except Iraq. These six Sunni Arab countries have a mutual interest with Israel: coping with the Iranian nuclear threat.
The account was opened four days ago and had four tweets as of Sunday morning. “Our hope is to reach out and open lines of dialogue #KSA #Oman #Bahrain #UAE #Qatar #Kuwait,” says one tweet.
The virtual embassy was the initiative of veteran diplomat Gary Koren, a special projects coordinator at the ministry’s director general’s office who has handled relations with the Gulf states. Koren will soon take up a new post as ambassador to the Czech Republic. The ministry’s public diplomacy department, headed by Yoram Morad, will operate the Twitter account, under the guidance of the director general’s office.
The U.S. State Department made a similar move a few years ago when it opened virtual embassies to Iran and Syria. These “embassies” are websites providing Iranians and Syrians information on the United States and its policies, and about consular issues like visas.
America’s virtual embassy for Iranians is operated from the U.S. Consulate in Dubai by a Persian-speaking U.S. diplomat. The virtual embassy in Damascus is operated from State Department headquarters in Washington by Arabic-speaking diplomats.
Israel opened a diplomatic office a year and a half ago in a Gulf state, details of which were inadvertently revealed in Finance Ministry documents on its 2013-14 economic plan. The document, which was published on the treasury’s website, does not name the country and the Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Israel has had diplomats in Oman and Qatar, but those offices were closed in 2000 and 2009, respectively, each due to a different round of fighting with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.