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Diplomacy is About Relationships, not Headlines

Eli Cohen Israeli Foreign Minister
Eli Cohen Israeli Foreign Minister photographed by Yosi Zamir, Shatil Stock

In the ambush of the Libyan Foreign Minister, Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen has demonstrated that he is unfit for his job.

The State of Israel is operating like a train that is out of control, without a driver and without a leader. In this case, the competition between ministers is not about actions, but rather about destructive and harmful statements and announcements.

In a span of 24 hours, we have witnessed the damage brought about by the government's circus of terror. First, the announcement of the "secret" meeting between Foreign Minister Cohen and his Libyan counterpart Najla El-Mangoush, and then Minister Smotrich's embarrassing attempt to give the United States a lesson on human rights laws. "The Americans will not lecture us about human rights," said the minister of a state whose power relies quite a lot on its alliance with the world's most powerful nation.

We are already used to Smotrich. The problem is that as time passes it becomes clear that the issue within the current government lies not only with its extremists, but also with almost all the ministers. In his decision to reveal his meeting with the Libyan minister, not only did Minister Cohen risk the life of the minister who had already fled to Turkey, but also sent a message to all countries in the region – stay away from the Israelis, because they cannot be relied upon.

In the absence of a responsible adult in the government, it is time for civil service personnel, including in the Foreign Ministry, to put a stop sign before the ministers! Minister Cohen's actions are damaging to Israel's ability to conduct sensitive and discreet regional talks, as has been done for years by the Foreign Ministry and the Mossad, which talks have yielded political dividends without betraying confidence. I know that many of our diplomats and Foreign Ministry officials, feel that they are the last ones left holding the very tip of the helm of the ship that insists on sailing towards the iceberg, but there are moments when the only way to save the ship from sinking is to shout with all one’s might, even if the reckless captains don't like it.

Minister Eli Cohen demonstrated with his "ambush" of the Libyan Foreign Minister that he is not fit for his position, not trustworthy, and unworthy to manage the Foreign Ministry and Israel's foreign affairs. Not everything can be solved by saying it was a "mistake". Cohen carried out a blatant and ugly act of betraying the trust of a colleague and the trust of a state. This is not another insult, nor another blame-shifting. This is a political assault that could also have negative consequences on human lives.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has already proven that he has no control over his ministers, not over Ben-Gvir, not over Smotrich and, apparently, not over Eli Cohen either. The very division of the Foreign Ministry as a kind of offering between two ministers, Cohen and Israel Katz, was problematic from the outset, but at the moment it seems that Minister Cohen is trying to use the last months of his first term in office in order to leave behind a legacy, not built on activity, but on headlines, and for this purpose - all means are legitimate.

With this mindset, Foreign Minister Cohen becomes a ticking time bomb that any day now could ignite not only Israel's foreign relations, but the entire region.


Nadav Tamir is the CEO in Israel of the American pro-Israeli lobby J Street, a former diplomat in the Israeli missions in Washington and Boston, and a past political adviser to the president of the country. He is also a contributor of USA for Israeli Democracy.


April 28, 2024

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