OF THE AMBASSADOR OF ISRAEL TO GREECE, TO
The Israeli Ambassador, Ali Yahya, lashes out
against the UN Human Rights Council. In his exclusive interview to
"Cultural Diplomacy" he states the "Goldstone Report"about the war
in Gaza was prejudiced against Israel.
At the same time he expresses
his concern about Iran's nuclear program and its ties to terrorist
organizations, as proven by the seizure of a ship carrying 3.000 Katyusha rockets destined for Hizbullah, while he speaks about
Israel's relations with Greece - Turkey - and the E.U.
Has there been progress in the peace
talks following the meeting the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had under the
auspices of the President of the United States, Barack Obama at the
UN? What are the prospects for peace a year after the war in Gaza?
"In terms of Gaza, I think that events there simply demonstrate that the
real problem in our area is not about Israel, Arabs, Muslims and Jews.
It is the extremism emanating from those who seek to destabilize our
region and reject any compromise. I am referring to extremist
organizations and their supporters like the Hamas and Iran, which are
not only a threat to Israel, but to moderate Arab states and Islam
itself. Clearly our quest to achieve peace must also be accompanied by
an effort to combat and isolate extremists. We must not let those who
seek to destroy peace prevail.
The meeting between Prime Minister
Netanyahu and President Abbas at the UN with President Obama was
important on a symbolic level. But I am sorry to say that much progress
has not been achieved since then. In spite of the lack of progress,
Israel has taken measures to ease the lives of the Palestinians in the
West Bank and allow the economy to develop by removing scores of
checkpoints. We have to engage in peace talks. There is no time to
spare. However, peace negotiations cannot take place if the Palestinians
keep presenting preconditions for talks to occur. If we are to achieve
our common goal of peace involving two states for two nations- with a
clear recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as
well a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, we must sit at the
negotiating table and resolve our problems."
You speak about peace but the recent "Goldstone Report" of the UN
Human Rights Council accuses Israel and the Hamas of carrying out war
crimes during the recent war in Gaza . . .
"The report is outrageous. Look at the facts. In 2005 we completely
withdrew from the Gaza Strip demolishing all the settlements and
uprooting all Israelis living there in an effort to jumpstart the peace
process. What we got in return was 12,000 rockets raining down on
innocent Israeli citizens in Southern Israel for 8 years from the Hamas,
an organization pent on Israel's destruction. We had no choice but to
respond. Israel carried out an extremely difficult operation against a
terrorist group that did not hesitate to use civilians as human shields
and launch attacks from homes, mosques and schools. In spite of this,
the Israeli Defense Forces did their utmost to avoid civilian
casualties, dropping leaflets, instituting a unilateral truce for
several hours every day to allow humanitarian supplies to reach the
civilian population, even making phone calls to homes in the area to
warn civilians there. Israel went above and beyond what most armies in
the world would do to avoid causing civilian casualties, but tragically
completely avoiding them is impossible. There is no such thing as a good
Furthermore, Israel thoroughly
investigated every single claim of every human rights organization and
individuals concerning unlawful or inappropriate behavior on the part of
its armed forces in Gaza and if wrongdoing was discovered it was
Then we have the UN Human Rights
Council, a politicized body that does nothing except condemn Israel, a
democratic country, while ignoring massive human rights violations
elsewhere in places like Darfur where half a million people have lost
their lives or the events in Iran. This poisoned source issued a report
over 500 pages long condemning Israel and only two pages referred to the
Hamas rocket attacks against innocent Israelis. The report completely
ignored the fact that the Hamas exploited its own civilian population.
It is truly ridiculous. You cannot draw parallels between a terrorist
organization like the Hamas and a democracy like Israel. Such reports
actually encourage terrorist organizations to exploit civilians. Reports
like these which seek to delegitimize Israel, actually delegitimize
democracies and their struggle against extremism everywhere."
Recently the P5+1 namely, the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council and Germany, held talks with Iran over its nuclear
program. The US administration described the talks as being positive
given that Iran agreed in principle to send some of its uranium deposits
for enrichment outside the country. Iran has always claimed it is
developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. What is your comment?
"In terms of Iran's claims about a peaceful nuclear program we have to
look at the facts. Several reports of the International Atomic Energy
Agency have stated that the exact intentions of Iran's nuclear program
cannot be clarified and may have a military dimension. At the same time
Iran is continuing uranium enrichment which would allow it to develop
nuclear weapons and is making advances in its missile technology that
would allow it to deliver those weapons against its neighbors. They are
getting closer there is no doubt about it
The development of nuclear weapons by
Iran would pose an enormous problem for stability in the Middle East,
the security of Israel and moderate Arab states, and would give
terrorists a nuclear umbrella or even nuclear weapons.
To this one can add the fact that the
Iranian President continues to deny the Holocaust and threaten to "wipe
Israel off the map." Tehran also provides support to terrorist
organizations like the Hamas and Hizbullah, is undermining the stability
of Arab states in the area and is even violating the rights of its own
The P5 +1 discussions simply point to
the fact that Iran is not an Israeli problem but an international one. I
don't want to prejudge the negotiations, but it is important for us to
remain focused on our goal, that is to prevent Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons. Israel supports all the diplomatic initiatives aimed
at achieving this goal. Of course, in terms of Iran's threats against
Israel and international security, every country reserves the right to
self -defense and Israel is no exception. Prime Minister Netanyahu has
repeated what President Obama himself stated, namely that all options
remain on the table. However, we believe that applying real pressure
including sanctions against this criminal regime will make Iran
reconsider its blatant flaunting of its commitments and obligations.
Iran is following a formula of misleading the international community,
uncontrolled uranium enrichment and threats against Israel all while
violating the rights of its own citizens. What else is necessary to
convince everyone it is a threat?"
Israel recently seized a ship with weapons near the Israeli coast and
claims they were destined for Hezbollah. What evidence do you have?
"The shipment seized simply proves that Iran is lending support to
terrorist organizations. 500 tons of weapons were seized including 3,000
Katyusha rockets and 9,000 mortar bombs. The cargo carried customs
labels of the Iranian armed forces and was sent with the shipping
manifests of an Iranian company. The evidence is conclusive and
What role can religious leaders play in finding a solution to the
conflict? Can they contribute?
"We have all seen the deadly results of exploiting religion for
political objectives as evidenced by the acts and behavior of extremists
and radical regimes like Al Qaeda, Iran, etc. That is why I think
moderate religious leaders have an important role to play in promoting
peace and understanding primarily by rejecting extremism and stressing
the commonalities of our religions - the things that bind us together as
human beings. When speaking about the three large monotheistic
religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam- we must remember that we are
part of the same family of Abraham. As such, we share the same values
of peace, compassion, love and respect as bestowed to us by our Common
Creator. That is why I have organized and participated in several
interreligious conferences of Rabbis, Imams and Christian leaders aimed
at promoting mutual understanding. Given that Greece is a crossroads
between the East and West I think it would be an ideal place for holding
more interreligious dialogues of this kind in cooperation with the Greek
What is the level of Greek - Israeli relations and in what fields?
"Greek - Israeli relations are excellent. First of all, we are
neighbors with longstanding ancient ties. On an economic level, our
bilateral trade has exceeded $542 million dollars. Israel is the
primary export market for Greek products in the Middle East, while
Greece holds an important position among EU states (8th) for
Israeli exports to Europe which is our largest trading partner. Tourism,
particularly, Israeli tourists coming to Greece, is flourishing.
In the field of culture, Israeli
dancers and performers regularly participate in Greek cultural events.
There have been three "meetings of Greek and Israeli intellectuals" like
Pavlos Matessis, Lena Divani and Amos Oz, etc. both in Greece and
Israel. Several famous Israeli writers like Amos Oz, David Grossman,
A.B. Yehoshua, Etgar Keret and Sami Michael have been translated into
Greek and are very popular here. Greek music and culture are literally
adored in Israel and speak to the soul of Israelis.
On a political level, Greece is not
only a member of the EU, but an important neighbor of Israel in the
Southeast Mediterranean region that is a leader in the Balkans. There is
an ongoing strategic dialogue and cooperation between our Foreign
Ministries and defense establishments.
An area where I believe we can
improve relations even more is in the fields of high tech and green
development. Israel has made great strides in these areas where we share
many of the same advantages and challenges as Greece. The Greek Prime
Minister, Mr. George Papandreou, has stated that a green model of
development is a priority for his government. Naturally, as a friendly
country Israel would be more than happy to cooperate with in these
critical fields for our mutual benefit."
There is a feeling in Athens that Israel has very close ties with
Turkey at the expense of cooperation with Greece. What is your take on
this point of view?
"Our aim is to develop friendly ties with all states in the Balkans,
including Greece and Turkey. It is not a zero sum game. We maintain a
strategic cooperation and dialogue with Greece and would like to further
develop them to their maximum potential."
There has been talk among some circles about Israel joining the EU in
the future. Could that happen? How are Israel's relations with the EU
"EU membership might be premature. However, Israel is very close
to Europe in terms of its culture, history and values. The EU and
Israel also have a highly developed cooperation through a series of
agreements which institutionalize the diplomatic dialogue between the
two sides and foresee close cooperation in fields like the economy,
science, culture, transport, energy, the environment, security, etc.
Israel is the only country outside the EU which fully participates in
the EU's R&D programs (7th Framework Program for Research and
Israel is one of Europe's largest
trading partners in the Euromed area with total trade amounting to 24
billion Euros. Europe is Israel's largest export market with Israeli
exports to the EU reaching 11.3 billion Euros.
Israeli artists and intellectuals are
highly admired in Europe and are an almost permanent fixture at European
cultural events. Even in the field of sports Israel participates in
European athletic gatherings.
The EU also has an important role to
play in terms of supporting the peace process and regional cooperation.
Israel appreciates the EU's role in promoting dialogue between both
sides through its cooperation with Israel, its economic aid to the
Palestinians and through its strengthening of the institutions and
capacity of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas in
order to also deal with extremist elements.
The EU's European Neighbourhood
Policy is important in fostering regional cooperation. Israel strongly
supports the goals of the Barcelona Process and is a founding member the
Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean. The
Euro-Mediterranean Partnership provides a framework of regional
cooperation that includes Israel, Europe and moderate Arab states to
help promote and consolidate peace.
Israel and Europe not only have
common values and a shared history but subscribe to the same vision for
peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean region."