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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Israeli Ambassador spoke about the restoration of relations, the tank and missed opportunities

A quarter of a century ago were restored diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel, broken in the background of the six day war in 1967. What has been accomplished in these 25 years and what can be done yet — in an interview with “MK” tells the extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the State Israel in Russia Zvi HEIFETZ.

photo: Kirill Iskoldsky

— Recently it became known that the Russian government agreed to transfer to Israel the tank “Magicians” from a Museum in Kubinka. Why is it so important for Israel?

In 1982 began the First Lebanon war. The reason for it was the attempt on the Israeli Ambassador in London (by the way, 25 years later, when I was Ambassador in London, began the Second Lebanon war). This war was hard, during one of the battles with Syrian forces near the village of Sultan Yaakub two Israeli tanks were in the hands of the Syrians. Since that time, our three soldiers are still missing. And these events have big trauma, especially for the relatives of the missing who are looking for them for 34 years. We have in Israel — exactly the same as you — everything about their dead or missing, is very sensitive and delicate… sometimes We gave thousands of terrorists in exchange for dead bodies. So, returning to the tank, which housed the missing soldiers. He was subsequently transferred to the Syrians by the Soviet Union. In order to study this American tank production. After that the car was in the Museum in Kubinka. A recent question about this tank was again raised. And Prime Minister Netanyahu in a meeting with the Russian President approached him personally with a question about the possibility to get this tank. Since this is virtually the only monument to the three missing soldiers. We have a national day of remembrance of the fallen soldiers. And all the relatives and friends come to the graves, the monuments to put on the Jewish tradition, a pebble. And here these three families — now they have a place where they could come and put a stone in memory of their loved ones. The Prime Minister explained how it is important from a humanitarian point of view to return this tank. For us is not just iron. And the Russian President agreed. It was a very human gesture, which we appreciate. Such things are not forgotten.

— I think that this solution is very symbolic on the background of what is now celebrated the 25th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. As far as we know, Mr. Ambassador, you arrived in Moscow in the late eighties, when there were no diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel…

— Yes, it was in 1989. It was then called “a group of Israeli diplomats at the Dutch Embassy in the Soviet Union”. Such was our status — not even “interest group”. At that time a group of Soviet diplomats went to Israel, and the Soviet Union came the Israeli diplomats. So I came here. This time, it was difficult, transitional, everything changed: the perestroika! We started to work here and moved from the building of the Dutch Embassy in this building on Ordynka street, where is now the Israeli Embassy. The Embassy of the Netherlands was just crowded, and we moved here, but worked under the Dutch flag. Once we drew attention to the fact that according to Jewish law there must be a mezuzah (affixed to the external door jamb scroll of parchment containing the text of the prayer), but it was obviously not the case. And for me it was happiness then, 27 years ago, nailed the mezuzah. Of course, I could not at that time to think and dream, what we after all these years will be in Moscow to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the restoration of relations between the two countries. Because then, in 1989, we lived here in the hotel “Ukraine” literally out of a suitcase any day we could send home. So it all began… And diplomatic relations were established in 1991. And now we celebrate the 25th anniversary is a miracle!

— But if to speak in more detail, then why come to our country over the past quarter century?

— There is no sphere of life, any industry in which we would not have cooperated in one form or another — the economy, trade, tourism, culture, technology, science, medicine And… agriculture! Naturally, the strengthening of relationships contributes to the fact that in Israel more than a million Russian-speaking residents, as they are a living bridge connecting our countries. When I left the Soviet Union a child 46 years ago, it was all — as cut off! And now dozens of flights fly back and forth every week.

— Without a visa!

— Yes, and without a visa. Not to mention the shops of Russian products in Israel, the media in the Russian language. And flows of people moving in both directions. All of this contributes to mutual understanding and increased cooperation, stronger connects two States, fills our relationship special warmth.

— And an important role, presumably, in this is the fact that many immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel occupy high posts…

— Yes, you can only be proud that so many Russian speakers occupy important positions in Israel.

— The best the enemy of the good. And if we talk about achievements, where the places in the relations of the two countries could be strengthened?

— I would like to increase the volume of trade, more cooperation in the field of technology (e.g. in agriculture)…

— Is it possible to talk about any missed opportunities over the past quarter of a century?

— I think that during this time we have caught up with lost years. Unfortunately, within two decades, from 1967 to 1991 — we did not have diplomatic relations. And here, comparing with other countries which had no such break in our bilateral relations we are not just caught up, but surpassed!

— The Israelis, like the Russians, love the holidays and the 25th anniversary of relations can and should celebrate. How you plan to celebrate this date?

— We have prepared a series of measures, of which perhaps the most significant is a multimedia hi-tech exhibition at the Manege “Door to Israel” from June 6 to 12. This interactive exhibition will show our country in all its forms. In parallel, we will bring our exhibition which last year was presented at the Milan EXPO. These huge exposition will be under one roof. In addition, the Supplement will be numerous lectures, concerts, performances. The official opening comes the Prime Minister of Israel. So this is one of the most exciting events in the context of special events that will help to tell about Israel and about our technologies. Entrance to the exhibition is free, we invite all: come, will be interesting.

— A few months ago during our interview with you, when we are talking about the Russian operation in Syria, you said, “Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to the neighborhood!” Since then, the situation with this door?

— Ugh-ugh-ugh! Knock on wood! So far everything is normal. We have a small region, and the events in it takes place a lot. By Russian standards it is very difficult, perhaps, to understand how crowded, how much it flies — airplanes, helicopters. And it was very important to avoid any mistakes including unintended clashes between our military. The Israeli Prime Minister visited Russia to discuss these topics to our neighborly relations were peaceful in the future. Then we created the agreement on a common approach to security measures, there were bilateral working groups under the military of our countries.

— You talked about the fact that the trade could develop and even more…

— Yes, the same could be said about the tourism industry. Unfortunately, today because of the economic situation and the growth of the dollar observed temporary decline. But this is really a temporary phenomenon, which does not apply to bilateral relations. And even ignoring this recession; we have to develop our trade and tourism, which we strongly try to maintain — especially since we have a visa-free regime.

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