Israel names Ron Dermer next envoy to Washington

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday named his longtime political advisor Ron Dermer Israel's next ambassador to the United States.

“Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said in a press release posted at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

The American-born Dermer, 42, has served as Netanyahu's senior adviser the past four years, and previously served as an economic attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

An Israeli diplomat said it's useful, given the importance of the US-Israel  relationship, for the Prime Minister to appoint a Washington envoy whom he trusts.

“It has always been the Prime Minister 's prerogative to appoint our ambassador to the USA, partially because of the importance of the position and the need for it to be someone the PM trusts and who has the PM's ear,” he said, speaking not for attribution. “Israel's professional diplomats work well with any appointment.”

Dermer will succeed diplomat and historian Michael Oren, who announced last week that he plans to step down in the fall after representing Israel in Washington since 2009.

(Photo of Israeli  Prime Minister and advisor Ron Dermer, Israel Government Press  Office.)

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Israel's US envoy Michael Oren to step down

img class=”alignright” alt=”" src=”https://profile-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hprofile-frc1/c44.44.553.553/s160x160/68747_115428941854182_4636361_n.jpg” width=”160″ height=”160″ />Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said Friday he will step down in the fall, after serving in the post for four years.

“After more than four years, during which I had the honor of serving as Israel's ambassador to our most important ally, the United States of America, I will conclude my term this fall,” Oren said in a statement sent out by the Israeli embassy Friday.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the State of Israel and its Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the United States, President Barack Obama, the Congress, and the American people,” he said.

Oren, a US-born historian, previously told Al-Monitor in an interview he was interested to write another book. A spokesperson at the embassy said he did not immediately know what his next plans are.

Israeli media reported in recent days that Netanyahu political advisor Ron Dermer may be named the next Israeli envoy to the US. The US-born Dermer emigrated to Israel from Florida in 1998, and has previously served as an economics advisor in Israel's US embassy, the Times of Israel said.

(Top photo: Ambassador Michael Oren, from his Facebook page. Bottom photo: Amb. Oren, playing the Irish drums, joined Iranian-Israeli singer Rita Jahanforuz and her band in a performance at a dinner at his residence November 12, 2013. Photo Credit: Shmulik Almany, courtesy of the Embassy of Israel in Washington.

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Reports: Netanyahu may tap Ron Dermer as next US envoy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering nominating his American-born advisor Ron Dermer as Israel’s next envoy to the United States, Israeli media, citing a report by Israeli daily Makor Rishon, said Friday.

“On Friday morning, the diplomatic correspondent of Israeli daily Makor Rishon Ariel Kahan reported that Netanyahu is nominating his advisor Ron Dermer to the role,” Haaretz’s Ben Ravid wrote. “Dermer has served as Netanyahu’s advisor for the past four years. I asked the Prime Minister’s Office whether they can confirm the report, and received an expected and routine answer: ‘No comment.’”

The reports said that Israel’s envoy to the US Michael Oren is expected to step down in May after serving in the role for the past four years.

Update: However, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington told the Back Channel Sunday that the rumor Ambassador Oren has asked to step down in the spring is baseless. “Ambassador Oren …. is continuing in his positions as planned,” the spokesperson said. “No decision has been made regarding the next ambassador to the United States or the timing of appointing a new ambassador.”

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Israel envoy: If Hamas stands down, we will stand down

Israel’s envoy to the United States said Friday that Israel is not looking to escalate the conflict with Hamas, but that if Hamas continues to launch rocket fire at  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it would consider that an escalation and respond in kind.

“If they stand down, we will stand down,” Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told journalists on a call arranged by The Israel Project Friday “We are not looking to escalate.”

“The rocket fire on Tel Aviv, … and Jerusalem is an escalation,” Oren said, referring to Hamas rocket fire that landed in both cities today without causing casualties or much damage, aside from psychologically, he said. Further rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers “would be an escalation and we would respond accordingly.”

Oren declined to say if Israel would launch a ground invasion if further such rocket attacks on major Israeli cities continue. “I am just going to say that we will take all and every means to defend our citizens.”

Oren said Israel had been largely successful in targeting Hamas’ long range rocket supply, although some remain, in the three-day old Gaza operation, Pillar of Defense. The major concern now remains Hamas’ stockpile of short and medium range rockets, with a range from 7 to 50km, he estimated. A Syrian-provided 50km range rocket is one that  Oren cited as responsible for the killing of three Israeli civilians in Kiryat Malachi on Thursday.

Oren also said the Israel is encountering an increased flow of arms into Gaza  from Libya, as well as from Sudan via the lawless Egyptian Sinai. Continue reading

Ambassador Rita: Iranian-Israeli superstar dazzles diplomatic crowd


Iranian-born Israeli singing superstar Rita Jahanforuz, on a US tour to promote her Persian language hit album, ‘My Joys,’ charmed guests at a performance at the Washington residence of Israeli Ambassador Michael and Sally Oren Monday night.

Several in the largely Iranian American audience had flown in from Los Angeles to see the Israeli Madonna, known universally just as Rita, sing the Persian hits of their youths. The crowd in the packed living room at times could hardly contain themselves from joining in, as Rita sang in Farsi and Hebrew, recalled her mother’s Persian lullabies, and cracked a couple political jokes. (“The last president I sang for went to prison,” she quipped in one such exchange, apparently referring to former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was also born in Iran.) Amb. Oren, who addressed Rita “as one ambassador to another,” joined the band for a final number, playing the Irish drums.

Talking about a message she had received from a fan in Iran, where Rita’s albums are reportedly an underground sensation played at weddings, Rita spoke of her hope that one day Iranians and Israelis can again be friends.

“‘Rita khoshgelee (beautiful), I so want to come see your concert, even if I would receive 3 years in jail and 20 lashes,’” she cited the message, adding, “So every concert, I keep a chair open, so that Israel and Iran can one day be open to each other.”

And then she and her band took the crowd into another joyful, Persian-Klezmir-gypsy-Polish wedding frenzy.

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White House denies report that US and Iran agreed to direct talks

The White House on Saturday denied a report in the New York Times that the United States and Iran had agreed to hold one–on-one talks on Iran’s nuclear program after the US presidential elections next month. But the White House reiterated that the Obama administration has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”

And a Washington Iran analyst told Al-Monitor that it is his understanding that a senior US arms control official has held authorized talks with an Iranian official posted to Turkey.

“It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement Saturday. “We continue to work with the P5+1 on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister also issued a statement Sunday denying direct talks with the United States. “Talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations,” Ali Akbar Salehi said at a press conference Sunday. “Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States.”

The Iran analyst, who asked not to be named, told Al-Monitor that it is his understanding White House WMD coordinator Gary Samore has had talks with an Iranian official posted as a diplomat to Turkey. The Iranian official was not identified.

US officials did not respond to requests for guidance from Al-Monitor late Saturday on the allegation a US official has had talks with an Iranian official or in what capacity.

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Romney to Israeli paper: Both Obama and I say nuclear Iran unacceptable


GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has given two interviews to Israeli newspapers ahead of his arrival in Jerusalem Saturday night.

“I would treat Israel like the friend and ally it is,” Romney told Israel Hayom, the newspaper owned by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has donated millions of dollars to Republican and Israeli causes. Adelson, who owns a home in Israel, may attend a $50,000 a plate fundraiser for Romney in Israel Monday.

“I cannot imagine going to the United Nations, as Obama did, and criticizing Israel in front of the world,” Romney continued. “You don’t criticize your allies in public to achieve the applause of your foes.”

So Romney learned first-hand in London Thursday, as his perceived criticism of preparations for the London Olympics got his three-nation foreign trip off to a quite rocky start.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson–both conservatives–fiercely defended preparations for the London Olympic Games after Romney told NBC Wednesday he found some reports of some pre-Games snafus “disconcerting.”

“If Mitt Romney doesn’t like us, we shouldn’t care,” railed the headline from the conservative UK Telegraph Thursday. London mayor Boris Johnson later mocked Romney in front of a crowd of 60,000 in Hyde Park, asking: “Mitt Romney wants to know whether we’re ready! Are we ready?” .

Romney also gave an interview in London Thursday to Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper. (Being on foreign soil when the interview was conducted, he told the paper he was trying to refrain from politicizing foreign policy.)

Asked about his Iran policy, Romney said he, like President Obama, have both said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable:The military option is the least attractive option but should not be ruled out, he said.

“President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. I feel a nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” Romney told Haaretz. “The term ‘unacceptable’ continues to have a meaning: It suggests that all options will be employed to prevent that outcome.”

“I am personally committed to take every step necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” Romney said.

In Israel, Romney will hold a breakfast fundraiser Monday (July 30) at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. He will also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–an old friend from their days at the Boston Consulting Group; Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who served as the Obama campaign’s chief of Jewish outreach in 2008.

But even with the personal ties and partisan sympathies Romney shares with Netanyahu, the powers of his White House incumbent challenger to make policy, sign bills, and grab headlines are hard to match.

On Friday, President Obama signed “a new U.S.-Israel security pact …a move that could steal some of the headlines there” as Romney arrives,” Yahoo’s Olivier Knox noted.  Indeed.

Israeli leaders and American Jewish groups applauded Obama’s action Friday.

“The Government and the people of Israel express profound gratitude to President Barack Obama on his signing of the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said in a statement Friday. It “sends an unequivocal message of support to the people of Israel at a time of great uncertainty throughout the entire Middle East.”

The security pact bolsters the “crucial” US-Israel security alliance “by extending loan guarantees…authorizing American military stockpiles in Israel, and improving military and intelligence cooperation, particularly in missile defense,” the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament said in a press statement.

Meantime, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to travel to Israel, as well as Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia next week, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The bill signing, as well as the Pentagon chief’s Israel trip, come “as Mitt Romney nears a visit to Israel with no power to provide security aid, unlike the incumbent,” CBS’s Mark Knoller noted.

(Photo: U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the press following his meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne outside 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2012.   REUTERS/Jason Reed.)

The matzo meter: Signs Israel and Turkey are getting friendlier

Elif Batuman reports in the New Yorker this week on Istanbul’s “phantom matzo factory” that operated in the city’s Galata neighborhood for thirty years, before being closed in 2007 and turned into an arts space:

A lot of people don’t know that, for nearly thirty years, Istanbul had its own working matzo factory, or that Istanbul still has its own non-working matzo factory. Known in Turkish as the “doughless oven,” located in Galata, on the northern bank of the Golden Horn, it has been given over to the arts. …

The machine had stopped running in 2007, after visiting rabbis found that some batches of matzo didn’t meet the regulations to be kosher. Maintaining the aging Turkish apparatus, with its frequent need of repairs and replacement parts, turned out to be more costly than importing matzo from Israel ….It might seem ironic to mass-produce and export a kind of bread that derives its importance from the fact that it was made on the run. Nonetheless, Israel now supplies all of Turkey’s matzo.

In Istanbul last month to cover the international Iran nuclear talks, I snapped the photo above of some of those Israeli matzohs for sale at a grocery store in Istanbul’s Nistantisi neighborhood.

While Israel and Turkey have been at odds in recent years in particular since the 2010 Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla violence, there are several recent signs that relations between the two countries are quietly improving. Israel this week downgraded its March warning to citizens about travel to Turkey to its lowest level–that of “continuing potential threat.”

Among other signs: Turkish authorities reportedly halted some “flytilla” activists at Turkish airports last month. Meantime, flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul were expanded to three a day last month, and Turkish budget airlines Pegasus reportedly added Tel Aviv to its routes. And commercial trade between the two nations rose to almost $4 billion in 2011–notably, with more of it consisting of consumer goods–software, foodstuffs, etc., rather than high-price-tag defense items.

Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States Namik Tan–who previously served as Ankara’s envoy to Israel–attended Israel’s Independence Day celebrations in Washington this week, where his presence was warmly welcomed by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

“We very pleased to see [Turkish Amb ] @NamikTan here tonight,” Amb. Oren told Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir, he noted on twitter, in a post retweeted by the Israeli envoy. “We missed him a lot.” Continue reading