Now more than ever before, Israel needs a strong foreign service. Global and regional changes require the steady hand of a permanent and experienced diplomatic corps. But, the foreign service confronting these massive challenges is weakened.
As indicated by the normalization of relations with the Emirates, significant aspects of foreign policy have been farmed out to other nuclei of power. Indeed, even the foreign minister was excluded from the decision-making process regarding the deal with the Gulf state.
Some of the ministry’s authority has been poached by the prime minister, acting as a “king-diplomat,” while others have been handed to relatively new agencies, such as the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
The low pay of Foreign Ministry diplomats even prompted an unprecedented 2019 strike at all Israeli missions abroad.
The 2020 appointment of a new, energetic minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, has raised hopes of change. However, power struggles within the coalition signal the challenges he is facing in advancing the Foreign Ministry, and indeed may lead to his early departure from his position.
In the US and the UK, where once-glorious foreign ministries have also been weakened, legislators were the ones who pushed for the restoration of the foreign service. In the US, lawmakers blocked President Donald Trump’s proposed 30% cuts in the State Department budget in recent years. The Democratic minority in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations even issued a comprehensive report recently providing in-depth analysis of the difficulties confronting the State Department and proposing 10 concrete recommendations for its rehabilitation.
The parallel British parliamentary committee conducts relatively close oversight of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The committee is conducting eight probes these days (including the hearing of witnesses and study of documents) on issues such as UK-Iran relations and the foreign ministry’s response to the global health crisis.
The article was published on The Jerusalem Post, 1 September 2020