Why's Boris in Israel? Clue: he won't be posing with fish this time

The Foreign Secretary needs to talk to Benjamin Netanyahu about Vladimir Putin

March 08, 2017 10:06

What a difference 16 months and a change of job title makes.

Boris Johnson's last visit to Israel as Mayor of London in November 2015 was a glorious three-day tour of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in which he delighted Israeli audiences by taking selfies with fish in Mahane Yehuda Market and slamming supporters of the Palestinian boycott of Israel as “corduroy-jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics", which got him disinvited from a planned meeting in the Palestinian Authority.

This week he is back in Israel, for a no-nonsense working visit as Foreign Secretary - and things cannot be more different.

Mr Johnson's FCO handlers have kept him on a short leash, shuttling him between meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah, without public engagements and any other opportunity for putting a foot wrong or offending either side.



Why come at all? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was only last month in London where he met Theresa May and Mr Johnson. Has any emergency suddenly sprung up in Israel-UK relations that requires Mr Johnson's famous personal touch? Hardly.

The key to the timing of the visit appears to be the fact that 24 hours after meeting Mr Johnson in his office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be sitting down in Moscow for his fifth meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the last 18 months.

The Foreign Secretary has tense meetings of his own scheduled later this month in Moscow, probably the biggest challenge in his short diplomatic career so far. Mr Netanyahu, for all his faults, has established himself as one of the longest-serving statesmen in the West and he has one distinct advantage in this role.

Not only has Israel's Prime Minister built an efficient working-relation with Mr Putin, he is also the only world leader who has known President Donald Trump for years, long before his surprising elevation to the Oval Office.

Mr Netanyahu's team led by his veteran adviser Ron Dermer, today Israel's ambassador to Washington has close ties with President Trump's inner circle. No other country has anything coming close to this level of contact with the new White House, certainly not the British government, which refuses to use the services of the only Brit with any real access there, Nigel Farage.

Much easier to fly to Jerusalem to ask for Bibi's advice and perhaps to send some discreet messages to Vladimir and Donald.

March 08, 2017 10:06

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