MK Danny Ayalon takes on Security Issues in NY Address - The Jewish Voice
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MK Danny Ayalon takes on Security Issues in NY Address

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“[Chuck] Hagel is a true American patriot, and the support the US gives Israel is also an American interest, so I am optimistic about his nomination,” Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on Thursday, January 10.

On the whole, Ayalon opted to speak diplomatically about the controversy regarding president Obama’s decision to nominate former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. But history indicates that Hagel’s voting record hasn’t always been on Israel’s side: in 2000, he was one of several senators who refused to sign a senate letter in support of Israel during the Intifada. Then, in 2006, he was one of twelve senators who refused to sign off a letter indicating the Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

“I know Hagel personally,” the deputy FM told the skeptical crowd of Jewish leaders. “When he was the senator of Nebraska I was in Washington and we had many meetings. I can’t say we saw eye to eye on everything, but at least he was a decent and fair interlocutor and you can reason with him. Once he sits behind the desk in the Pentagon, I’m sure he will be very impressed and proud of the volume of defense relations between the US and Israel.”

Earlier this month, Ayalon, a controversial figure in his own right, was fired from the Knesset roster by resigned Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. A decision that shocked the political arena and made media headways, insiders had previously deemed it a “preemptive step by Lieberman concerning an issue involving Ayalon that has yet to be revealed.” Today, the issue is known to be in relation to Israel’s former Belarus ambassador, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh. Lieberman allegedly instructed Ayalon to appoint Ben Aryeh as the ambassador to Latvia in exchange for information about an investigation against him being conducted in Belarus. According to Ynet, Ayalon will be testifying on behalf of the prosecution in the trail against Lieberman.

When pressed about his friendship with his former boss by a young reporter at the Conference, Ayalon chose not to dwell on the gossip mill, calling their relationship “very cordial.”

Moving forward, Ayalon tackled another debate in Israeli news, a recent statement made President Shimon Peres calling Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas “a real partner for peace.” Peres was slammed by the Likud and others on the right for expressing a political position on such a sensitive issue, since as president he is supposed to be non-partisan. Consequently, Ayalon spoke exclusively to the Jewish Voice about the Israeli president’s statements. “I have the highest respect for president Peres, but [the theory] still has to be tested,” he told the JV. “We would like to see Abu Mazen as a partner, but he has to prove this first. He has to stop evading negotiations and stop unilateral acts like in the UN resolution, and most importantly he has to stop the indictment. Today in Fatah schools in the West bank, and this is not Hamas, they teach hatred of Jews and Israelis without real recognition of Israel. This has to change and then of course we would welcome him as a partner.“

On the contrary, the deputy foreign minister was more optimistic in regards to Israel’s evolving relationship with Egypt following the forced resignation of long time Egyptian president Mubarak. “I think [our mutual] interests will also dictate continued cooperation first and foremost on counterterrorism,” he said. “The Egyptians understand this as they experienced it first hand. Just three months ago during the Ramadan, 16 Egyptian soldiers were executed point blank by an Islamist terrorist group, and this caused a rift between Egypt and Hamas,” who could have reportedly prevented the attack and chose not to, deeming them an accomplice to the crime.

Going back to his economic roots, Ayalon also noted that a friendly relationship with Israel greatly benefits the country economically: “Egypt’s main problem today is water,” he said, and “the same Nile that fed 25 million Egyptians only 15 years ago has to feed 85 million Egyptians today, [and do so with] even less water. Water is already more precious that oil in the Middle East, and Israel is the only country that desalinates water on a massive scale. We will end up supplying water to the entire Middle East, and hopefully, with nanotechnology we will bring down the cost of desalination today. This will continue to necessitate the friendly relations the two countries have right now.

Lastly, when the question of what he will do once his tenure end came up, Ayalon joked, “I would like to hopefully make some money, maybe Mort can teach me a few things,” looking over at the Mort Zuckerman, who introduced him to the stand. Zuckerman, a real estate mogul and owner and publisher of the New York Daily News, made headways recently when he donated $200 million to a Columbia University research program. The two exchanged kind words throughout the speech, as Ayalon notably called Zuckerman “a great friend, ally and missionary of the Jewish people.”

In his closing statements, the former deputy FM said he will “take some time off from politics, I hope it will be a long, long time off politics but you never know. In Israel there is no predictability, and if the next coalition is not stable enough we can call for reelection in two or three years. I hope not because we need the stability,” he reflected, and with hungry eyes concluded, “I am not making any promises, but I am not ruling out the opportunity to enter the political ring again.”

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