Career diplomat tapped as stand-in as Foreign Ministry head quits
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Career diplomat tapped as stand-in as Foreign Ministry head quits

Yuval Rotem, former ambassador to Australia, to take over after Dore Gold walks out

Former ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, right, seen with former British prime minister Tony Blair. Rotem was appointed to be acting director-general of the Foreign Minister, October 13, 2016. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Former ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, right, seen with former British prime minister Tony Blair. Rotem was appointed to be acting director-general of the Foreign Minister, October 13, 2016. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly appointed a former ambassador to take over as acting head of the Foreign Ministry Thursday after director Dore Gold announced his sudden resignation.

Yuval Rotem, 57, head of Public Diplomacy Directorate at the ministry, is a career diplomat with 30 years of experience and who previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Australia, as the consul general in Los Angeles, and also did a stint as chief of staff at the ministry.

Earlier Gold unexpectedly declared he was leaving after 16 months in the job.

Hebrew media reports cited senior Israeli officials saying Gold, a native of Connecticut and longtime confidant of Netanyahu, quit mainly because he was frustrated over having been relegated to deal with Africa and left out of the country’s most important foreign policy matters.

Former ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, who was appointed to be acting director-general of the Foreign Minister, October 13, 2016. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Former ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, who was appointed to be acting director-general of the Foreign Minister, October 13, 2016. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

However, in a statement Gold stressed that his reasons for leaving were entirely personal.

“I am proud of my work under the prime minister to open new horizons for Israel in the Sunni world and recently in the African continent,” Gold wrote. “I completely identify with the political strategy of the prime minister and I acted accordingly. As the prime minister wrote. I hope to help him in the future in any way he chooses.”

Rotem joined the diplomatic corps in 1985 and was appointed to the rank of ambassador in 2003 by Netanyahu who at the time was foreign minister. The appointment made him one of the youngest ever Israeli ambassadors.

He served as Israel’s envoy to Australia and New Zealand between 2007 and 2013. During his time in Australia, Rotem had to deal with the fallout from the 2010 assassination in a Dubai hotel room of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of a Hamas’s military wing, in a hit attributed to Mossad agents who allegedly used fake foreign passports, including those of Australian citizens.

In another incident that tested diplomatic ties, in 2013, details emerged of the suicide while in custody of Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier three years earlier as he was being held in Israel on serious espionage charges.

Zygier, allegedly a Mossad agent who was said to have inadvertently leaked names of other agents in the Middle East resulting in their arrest, imprisonment, or deaths, was being held under a strict media blackout and became known as “Prisoner X.”

Director-General of the Foreign Ministry Dore Gold at a Knesset, committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Director-General of the Foreign Ministry Dore Gold at a Knesset, committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Since Netanyahu, who is also acting foreign minister, appointed Gold as the ministry’s director-general in June 2015, Gold has been involved in many diplomatic activities, to the extent that some called him Israel’s de facto foreign minister.

Gold oversaw the rapprochement with several African countries. He has also met Arab diplomats, including several top officials of states that do not have formal relations with Jerusalem.

Yet Gold was reportedly unhappy about his role in Israel’s foreign policy apparatus. A senior diplomatic official was quoted Thursday saying that Gold quit due to a falling-out with Netanyahu. Specifically, Gold was said to be frustrated that Netanyahu entrusted Israel’s most important foreign policy matters to his personal envoy, Isaac Molho.

That includes the recent rapprochement with Turkey but also bilateral ties with the United States, the official reportedly said. Gold was also said to be bitter over Netanyahu’s appointment of MK Michael Oren, a former envoy to the US, as a deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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