Veteran Israeli envoy takes the long view
ISRAEL — Former ambassador and political adviser under five Israeli prime ministers, Yehuda Avner had some advice for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his diplomatic campaign against a nuclear Iran.
“I would advise him to do precisely what he is doing, including the message he is delivering to Washington, his conversation with President Obama, and the speech he delivered at the United Nations.”
Ahead of a speaking tour that will take him to Long Branch on Oct. 15, Avner said Israel is prepared for any contingency in regard to Iran’s threat of nuclear weaponry. Like Netanyahu, he remains skeptical of Iran’s recent overtures to the West, and echoes Netanyahu’s Oct. 1 General Assembly speech rejecting the “charm offensive” mounted by Iran’s president.
“Our intelligence knows that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s centrifuges are spinning at an unprecedented pace,” said Avner. “This means that words are meaningless unless they are accompanied by actual deeds. Nothing has happened in order to change Israel’s conclusion that Iran is racing toward becoming a nuclear power. That would be a disaster first and foremost for the Western world and a dire threat to Israel.”
In a phone interview with NJJN from his Jerusalem office, Avner spoke about his upcoming speaking engagements in the United States and Canada, including the program at the Chabad of the Shore in Long Branch. The program is sponsored by Chabad with support from the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
‘She kept her calm’
Avner said he plans to discuss his memoir, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, which was adapted for a two-part documentary that premiered in Los Angeles and New York this past spring.
“It is very fulfilling to me that tens of thousands of people have read my book, and to know that thousands more will see it on the big screen,” said Avner, who was born in Manchester, England, in 1928, and arrived in the British Mandate for Palestine in 1947.
Avner, now 84, began his diplomatic career after the Six-Day War in 1967, holding posts at the Israeli consulate in New York; the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC; and as Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Ireland, and Australia.
He also served as speechwriter and secretary to Israeli Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and adviser to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres.
Meir, in particular, has been on his mind recently during the 40th-year commemoration of the Yom Kippur War.
“The war broke out on her watch,” he recalled. “This older lady with tired eyes who knew nothing of things military emerged in the end as a great war leader. While leading Israel from the brink of catastrophe to military triumph, she kept calm while others around her were losing theirs, most notably Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who had always embodied Israel’s defiance against great odds.”
Dayan, said Avner, “in the war’s initial stages, became very fearful of Israel’s ability to defend itself. He told Golda that we may be witnessing the ‘destruction of the third Temple.’ Golda responded by telling him that his job is to win the war and her job is to help him obtain the means to do so.”
She made true on her promise, securing U.S. aid through then-President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which substantially helped the Israel Defense Forces turn the tide in Israel’s favor.
Chabad, the hosts of his Long Branch lecture, holds a special place in Avner’s heart. “I admire the Chabad movement,” he said. “On behalf of the various prime ministers I served, I have had numerous encounters with the Rebbe,” referring to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the longtime spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.