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Special Interview Arens Ponders His Future

January 27, 1982
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Prof. Moshe Arens (Likud-Herut MK), Israel’s new Ambassador to Washington, quotes Samuel Goldwyn when asked how his diplomatic assignment will affect his political future. “Forecasting is very difficult,” the legendary movie maker is reported to have said, “especially about the future …”

A still rising star in the Herut firmament, Arens, 56, says he cannot now speculate how his career will shape up in the years ahead. He stresses though that he certainly does not look upon the Ambassadorship as a sort of stepping-stone to higher political office.

“I daresay all successful politicians harbor the ambition to reach the top of the greasy pole, to become Prime Minister. Well, I don’t. In that respect I’m not a successful politician…”

What he will look for in the Ambassadorship is “satisfaction in a good job well done” — just as he achieved satisfaction from chairing the powerful and prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee over the past five years.


“Not that I’m a man lacking in ambition,” Arens continues. As an aeronautical engineer he was driven with the urge to get to the top — and indeed by the time he left that field for politics he was director of project for the Israel Aircraft Industries.

“I have great confidence in my ability to design planes and missiles,” Arens still says of himself today. He keeps fully in touch with professional developments and still dreams of returning to the drawing-board “before I’m too old.”

In fact, says Arens, had the Israel government made a firm decision to build the second generation “Lavie” warplane a few months ago, he (Arens) would have eagerly given up his political career and lobbied to get the job of director of that project “because I see it as the most important contribution I could make.”

In the U.S., Arens intends to keep his hand in still — especially by urging American high-technology industries (including aerospace industries) to seriously investigate investment opportunities in Israel. This, he says, is a vital part of the Ambassador’s role.


Being an active (and powerful) politician in Israel’s ruling party will positively help him in his work as Ambassador, Arens says with conviction. His American interlocutors will know “that I have many contacts and a certain degree of influence” back in Jerusalem, that he has a following within Herut, that he has “a close relationship” both with Premier Menachem Begin and with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Sometimes, Arens notes, countries send special high-level emissaries to foreign capitals to take care of specific problems. “In many ways I shall be like a special emissary — only I’ll be there permanently,” he states.

He scoffs at the predictions of some Israeli pundits that the Administration will seek to deliberately “bypass” him and deal with Israel through U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis in Tel Aviv because of his well known hardline views. That would be, Arens says, for the U.S. to cut off its nose to spite its face — and therefore Washington is very unlikely to act that way. The American interest, like the Israeli interest, is to keep both channels of communication — the Tel Aviv Embassy and the Washington Embassy — open and operating.

Arens sees the primary task of an Ambassador as being a channel of consistent and accurate communication — in order to ensure that the host government and his own government never misunderstand one another. If he can bring about a situation of positive understanding, whereby each understands the other’s motives — that is a higher step, Arens muses. If he can produce agreement on issues — that is the highest goal.


While Arens does not intend to sever his party political ties while serving as Ambassador, he vows to be “the Ambassador of the State of Israel — not the Ambassador of any party.” By the same taken, he will not favor politically sympathetic Jewish leaders or groups in the U.S. at the expense of others.

He is acutely aware, and does not attempt to minimize, the extent of dissent within the American Jewish community over aspects of Israel’s policy. In this respect, he says, the American community reflects Israel itself where the same differences over the same issues rend the political community asunder.


Arens is not daunted, however. His basic approach, he says, is that American and Israeli interests in the Mideast largely converge: the problems arise only over “perceptions” of how to further those interests.

Thus, he lists the U.S. strategic goals in the area as: stemming Soviet advances, maintaining peace, ensuring Western oil supplies, and keeping oil prices stable. “These are all Israeli interests, too, every one of them,” the future envoy observes.

There was dramatic proof, he says, of this convergence of interests during the AWACS debate, when it was clear that many American opponents of the sale opposed it for purely American reasons.

Arens is treading carefully in everything to do with his concrete plans as Ambassador. He will take over in less than a month, but says he has so far made no specific requests for staff changes.


Last Tuesday night, his last evening of membership of the Knesset, Arens was seen sitting long and late in the members dining room, chatting with all and sundry. “He’s having a tough time leaving this place,” an observer commented.

For, despite his diffidence and talk of himself as something less than a “successful politician,” Arens in fact is a remarkable success story in Israeli politics. A relative late-comer, he has already made it to the next-to-top level of policy making. He was seriously considered as a candidate for Defense Minister when Ezer Weizman resigned in 1980. And, his career, which now takes a diplomatic turn, is still in full flush.

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