Peres: Israel has fantastic respect for Egyptian president

President Shimon Peres has not abandoned his old friend Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “We always have had and will have fantastic respect for President Mubaraek. Not every thing he did was right, but he did do one factor for which all of us are thankful. He was the peace keeper of the Middle East,” Peres told incoming Costa Rican Ambassador Rodrigo Carreras, the initial of 5 new ambassadors who on Monday presented their credentials. The other people were Estonia’s Tiina Intelmann, Chile’s Joaquin Montes Larrain, Bulgaria’s Yuri Borissov Sterk and Ethiopia’s Helawe Yosef Mengistu.

Acknowledging that Mubarak had not always taken an ideal course, Peres, alluding to the riots in Egypt and the present regime in Iran, declared “a fanatic religious oligarch is not better than lack of democracy.” He then went on to say that most people believe that democracy is only elections. But democracy is much more, he asserted. It is also peace and freedom.

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For Carreras, who was previously Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel in the late 1980s, and whose father Benjamin Nunez had twice been ambassador prior to him, it was like a homecoming. When he heard the playing of the Costa Rican and Israeli national anthems at the start of the ceremony, Carreras confessed, it had brought tears to his eyes.

He had actually left the Foreign Service after serving as ambassador to Nicaragua and directing Costa Rica’s School of Foreign Service to go into academia. He was teaching at the university when President Laura Chinchilla took office in Might, 2010. She invited him to come back to the Foreign Service and when he asked her where she wanted him to go, she told him that she wanted him to go back to Israel to take the relationship between Costa Rica and Israel back to the high level that it had been prior to. Chinchilla might personally contribute to this endeavor if she accepts the invitation to come to the President’s Tomorrow Conference in June of this year. Carreras said that she was keen to come and had spoken to him about her possible participation.

A representative of Israel’s Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the ambassador’s father had been transferred from Israel to the United Nations, because Costa Rica wanted him to appear out for Israel’s interests there.

Coincidentally, Estonia’s Tiina Intelmann, spent six years as her country’s ambassador to the United Nations prior to being transferred to Israel. Peres welcomed her as her country’s initial resident ambassador to Israel. There have been several Estonian ambassadors to Israel in the past, but none who actually lived here. Estonia opened an embassy in Tel Aviv some 18 months ago. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ives visited Israel in June, 2010.

At that time, Ives had told Peres that each countries know what it means to stand up and fight for your existence. Intelman said that she had spent a lot of time with Ives just prior to coming to Israel, and that he had shared with her the impressions of what he had seen and learned. He was very interested in enhancing cooperation with Israel particularly in the locations of info technologies and security.

Intelman also met with representatives of Estonia’s Jewish community who enthusiastically remembered Peres’s visit to Estonia last year.

Even though she still needs to discover and understand a lot about Israel said Intelman, she was in a sense very familiar with Israel because the complicated issues associated to the Middle East in common and Israel in particular were so frequently on the UN agenda.

When sitting down to chat with Chilean Ambassador Joaquin Montes Larrain, Peres remarked: “Chile certainly gave a message to the world. All of us salute you.” He was of course referring to the superhuman efforts made to rescue Chilean miners who spent 68 days trapped underground in a mine in Chile. “What you did was unforgettable,” said Peres citing the Talmudic quote: He who saves a single life is as one who saved a whole world.

The rescued miners, together with their spouses will visit Israel on a special Holy Land pilgrimage of thanks, as guests of the Tourism Ministry. They are due to arrive in Israel on February 23, for an 8 day tour that will consist of visits to the holy websites, prayer meetings with religious leaders and common sightseeing.

Montes Larrain said that his country was very grateful to the Israel Government and the Ministry of Tourism for the invitation. He was also excited at the anticipated visit at the beginning of March of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who will be the initial Chilean President to visit Israel in more than 4 decades. Montes Larrain invited Peres to visit Chile which has changed somewhat since Peres was there close to forty years ago in his capacity as Minister for Transportation. At that time Chile was launching subway travel, and Peres was eager to see it in the hope of adapting it to Israel, where today’s frustrated citizens would be reasonably happy if the light rail program was already operating and if there was an express train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not to mention any train that would go from the northern tip to the southern tip of the country and back.

Following receiving Sterk’s letter of credence, Peres said that he could not speak about Bulgaria with out sentiment. Casting his mind back to the Holocaust years, Peres lauded the manner in which Bulgaria had behaved in relation to its Jewish population.

“Bulgaria proved that a various attitude was possible,” responded Sterk. He regretted that while Bulgaria was under Soviet rule, there was no possibility of creating relations, but was hopeful that the two countries could make up for the long lacuna particularly with cooperative projects in high technologies, agriculture, defense and security.

Bulgaria, as a member of the European Union, could do a lot towards the improvement of friendship and cooperation between the EU and Israel, he said.

Returning to the subject of what Bulgaria did for its Jews during the Holocaust, Sterk said that one of his missions was to produce higher awareness of this by persuading Yad Vashem to name more Bulgarians as righteous among the nations.

Peres noted that Bulgaria’s relations with the Jews and Israel were as great as ever as exemplified by the instant Bulgarian response to the recent Carmel fires when it sent in a team to assist extinguish the flames.

Peres who claims to be more interested in the future than the past, nonetheless often hooks to ancient history when meeting new ambassadors. He did so again with Ethiopia’s Mengistu, saying that Israel’s relationship with Ethiopia was not only political but historical going back to Biblical occasions and the liaison between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Peres commended Ethiopia for defending its heritage, particularly taking into account its isolation from Christian communities.

Ethiopian immigrants to Israel he said, were a bridge to understanding between the two countries and their continued relations. “We appear on Ethiopia as a dear and essential friend,” said Peres, and reminisced about his visit there in the days of Emperor Haile Selassi. Mengistu invited Peres to undertake a state visit to Ethiopia some time this year.

The pomp and ceremony that generally accompanies the presentation of credentials, was on this occasion diluted for two factors. 1 is that the thirty day mourning period for the President’s wife Sonia has not but expired, and the other was the inclement climate.

Generally, an IDF honor lines the path on which the new ambassador walks to the door of Beit Hanassi and a police or army band plays the national anthems and Israeli marching songs beneath the pergola at the entrance to the constructing.

On Monday each the honor guard and the Israel Police Band were crowded into the primary reception area inside the constructing. The only music played were national anthems and there were also some minor adjustments of protocol.

Likewise on Tuesday, the reception for German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be low-crucial and will be treated as a operating visit rather than a state visit in consideration of the reality that Peres is still in mourning.

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