Britain’s new ambassador in Tel Aviv hails ‘the job I really wanted’

Neil Wigan is set to return for second diplomatic posting in Israel, where he met his wife


Neil Wigan has previously been posted to Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But unlike most globetrotting diplomats, his new role — Britain’s ambassador to Israel — is a family affair, as he returns to the country where he met his Israeli wife.

Mr Wigan, who is not Jewish, first travelled to the Jewish State as a history student, then served in the British embassy between 2002 and 2006, more than a decade later.

In an interview with the JC, he said his first-hand experience of living through the Second Intifada, as well as his personal connection to the country, has given him a “depth of understanding”.

He said: “I really wanted to come back — this is the job I really wanted.

“There’s a very strong personal interest in Israel. It’s easy for me to get outside the diplomatic bubble and just go and see family and friends who are all over Israel.

“Having that memory of what it was like during the Intifada, and having travelled on buses when [suicide bombings] were a regular feature, having passed through places where they took place, I hope that will make Israelis feel I understand their situation.

“I’m not approaching it as an outsider. It gives me a depth of understanding.”

Mr Wigan, born in Hampshire and educated at Oxford, has worked for the Foreign Office since 2000, holding various diplomatic positions in London and abroad.

He said that his roles in Mogadishu and Kinshasa were “completely different” from the ambassadorship he will assume next month — although he has already, jokingly, been told his stint in Somalia “is probably good practice for Israeli internal politics”.

The 48-year-old repeated the UK’s position of opposing the most controversial recent decisions by the US government.

Last year the US Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and more recently President Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Mr Wigan did not, however, rule out a Jerusalem move for the British embassy, but only “if there was political progress…

“We think that is a decision we would take at a time when we would think it would advance the peace process.”

Similarly, recognition of Palestinian statehood is off the table until such a time as it would “help contribute to the peace process”, and only in coordination with international partners.

But the focus of the embassy’s work has shifted away from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since his previous tenure in Tel Aviv, he said.

Items high on the agenda now include bolstering UK-Israeli economic ties, as well as the “shared interest in trying to stop or limit Iran’s malign role in the region”.

But one of his first priorities when he takes over from David Quarrey, who has served as ambassador since 2015, will be to visit Israel’s southern region, which has not shared in the prosperity generated by Israel’s recent tech boom, while being subjected to the brunt of missile attacks from Gaza.

He said: “One of the things I want to do personally is to go down to the south, to some of the communities that have suffered under the recent rocket attacks, so I can see for myself what life is like in those communities.

“And there are quite a lot of British kibbutzim in that area, so I want to go and see them and work out what’s going on.”

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