JERUSALEM (Nov. 19)
President Chaim Herzog’s official tour to Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, now nearing its end, has been fraught with embarrassments which some Knesset members are attributing to poor planning and inadequate briefings of the President by his aides and government officials.
But observers here stress it is premature to say whether or not Herzog’s primary purpose, to enhance Israel’s political image and expand its export markets in a prospering region of the world was achieved.
Moreover, it seems likely that the noisy anti-Israel demonstrations that greeted Herzog when he arrived in Singapore Tuesday to begin a scheduled three-day visit does not reflect important sentiment in that booming island nation but was orchestrated by Singapore’s powerful Moslem neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Herzog was warmly greeted by Singapore’s veteran Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who faced down heavy Moslem and Arab pressure to cancel the visit. Israel has a long-standing relationship with Singapore which includes civilian and military aid and trade ties. Lee made a point of extolling that relationship, though he also urged Herzog that Israel must vacate the Arab territories it occupied in 1967.
Nevertheless, Israelis were disturbed by reports Wednesday that Herzog was politely asked to shorten his visit to Singapore–the last stop in his tour–so as to leave before Pope John Paul II arrives on his official visit.
AN UNFORTUNATE COINCIDENCE
Herzog’s visit to Australia unfortunately coincided with intense interest there in the affair of Mordechai Vanunu, the former technician at the Dimona nuclear facility who disappeared in London October 1 and has turned up in jail in Israel. He faces charges of either espionage or treason for giving a British newspaper information about Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons capabilities.
Vanunu lived in Australia for a time and it was there that he converted to the Christian faith. Rev. John McKnight, the Anglican vicar who converted him, went to Israel last month in an unsuccessful attempt to discover Vanunu’s whereabouts. He charged that Vanunu was kidnapped from British soil by Israeli agents and brought to Israel against his will.
Israel vociferously denied this, though it hasn’t said how or when Vanunu came to Israel. Herzog’s embarrassment was compounded because the Jerusalem government failed to inform him when it decided, after weeks of silence, to acknowledge publicly that Vanunu was in Israel.
As a result, Herzog was innocently denying knowledge of his whereabouts after the Cabinet in Jerusalem confirmed he was being held “under lawful detention.”
In New Zealand, his next stop, the President found the focus of media attention not on his visit or on bilateral relations with Israel but on the issue of nuclear weapons in light of Vanunu’s revelations. There is a fierce national debate going on in New Zealand about nuclear defense.
Those matters lent credence to Likud Liberal Pinhas Goldstein’s charge in the Knesset Wednesday that the Herzog tour was “replete with glitches and snafus” and “not well planned.” Goldstein, who called the events in Singapore “the last straw,” introduced a motion for Knesset debate on Herzog’s trip.
SOME UNDISPUTABLE SUCCESSES
There were of course some indisputable successes for the Israeli chief of state, such as his tour of the South Pacific island nations. The King of Tonga and other local leaders displayed genuine warmth toward Herzog and Israel and expressed interest in improving relations with the Jewish State.
In large measure, their attitude stems from the favorable impressions made by the small number of Israeli experts, mainly agronomists, who have served in the region. The local population is interested in more aid and know-how from the Israelis.
One expected high point of the tour, a visit to the Philippines, was cancelled at the last minute because of the troubled political climate in that nation. Herzog, after a telephone conversation with Premier Yitzhak Shamir, decided to avoid Manila.
When informed by the Israeli Ambassador of the cancellation, Philippines President Corazon Aquino reportedly “shed a tear,” as if Herzog’s decision somehow symbolized her own precarious position.
But there were suggestions in the Israeli media that her disappointment may have been tinged with relief because she, too, has been under pressure from the Moslem states not to welcome the Israeli President. The Philippines itself has a large and powerful Moslem minority which has been in on-and-off rebellion against the Manila regime.
On he other hand, Herzog was warmly received in Hong Kong where he made a hastily arranged visit as guest of the local Jewish community to fill the time before his scheduled arrival in Singapore. Israel recently re-opened its Consulate in the British Crown colony which had been closed for several years for budgetary reasons.
Israel hopes his visit will result in important commercial relations with Hong Kong which is also a political conduit to the People’s Republic of China.