Same boat: Israel’s UN ambassador on threats facing the Jewish state and the United States

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley ‎receives briefings from Deputy Chief of Staff MG Aviv Kochavi, BG Yehuda Fuchs of Gaza Division, UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process Nikolai Mladenov, and USAID Deputy Mission Director Jonathan Kamin during a visit to Kerem Shalom crossing.

By George Castle, Special to Chicago Jewish News

The plate of Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, must by necessity be bigger than when he started on the job in Aug. 2015.

Danon and many of his fellow envoys need seder-sized plates to accommodate every storyline. The Middle East-based issues originally occupying much of Danon’s time have now become even more interconnected with American foreign policy challenges and the daily chaos emanating out of the White House.

North Korea’s test of an ICBM that could be, when perfected, ready to hit much of the continental United States is definitely the business of the U.N. and seem to hark back to George W. Bush’s post-9/11 “Axis of Evil.”

“We don’t see a difference between North Korea and Iran,” Danon said in an interview with Chicago Jewish News at a downtown Chicago hotel. “When you see evil, you should call it (as such). What we see coming out from Iran and North Korea are the same.

“We should be worried about North Korea and Iran. We see the connection between the two. In the past, they have shared technology.” As a result of this relationship, Israel has a negative connection to North Korea. “That’s why we are worried about it,” Danon said. “Iran had a ballistic missile test where the target had a Star of David. I showed it to my colleagues at the U.N. When they write on the ballistic missile that it should destroy Israel completely, in Hebrew, that is something you should be worried about.”

Meanwhile, Arab nations formerly hostile to Israel feel the sense of discomfort by all the sabre-rattling. Officials are more amenable to talking to Israel under the circumstances.

“I was in one of the gulf countries a few months ago, and I had an interesting discussion with one of the leaders,” Danon said. “He told me the first missile would fly to his country, not to Tel Aviv.  It’s a threat to all of us.”

While Danon cannot comment specifically on the daily drama of Donald Trump’s tweeting, often contradicting others in his administration, he confirmed the diplomatic community is still adjusting to the unlikely chief executive and whatever passes for his foreign policy.

“Many ambassadors were surprised by the results of the election,” Danon said. “They thought Hillary Clinton would win.

“I come from a democracy in Israel. Sometimes you have different voices with different opinions. Different (cabinet) ministers saying different things. Maybe some other ambassadors come from places where they don’t appreciate or know the way of democracy. But I do understand the system. You have the Congress, the president, the public, the media.

“It’s a bad system, but it’s the best one we have. I look at my colleagues, most do not have democracy back home. Even if they complain about it, they still appreciate it.

“Our strongest ally, and we will never forget it, is the U.S.”

Proposed cuts to the State Department also are providing a sense of unease at the U.N. Some 25 percent of the 72-year-old international body’s budget is provided by the U.S. Any cutbacks would severely hamper the U.N., Danon added.

“They are worried about that,” he said. “A major impact (if cuts are implemented). My position is that we should not close the U.N. We should bring the U.N. back to its core values.”

One U.S. positive in the U.N. is the early performance of new U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, strongly vocal in her recitation of U.S. positions, including support for Israel. Danon accompanied Haley on a tour of Israel about a month ago.

“She saw Hezbollah on the border, and the Hamas tunnels going from Gaza into Israel,” Danon said. “It was an important visit for us. It’s about supporting the values of the U.S.”

While on her tour, Haley no doubt got some close-in intelligence about the degraded, but still dangerous, ISIS caliphate under siege in both Iraq and Syria. Danon said the weaker ISIS is made as a land-controlling entity, the more threatening it could become beyond its borders.

“Their ideology is still there,” he said. “Once they realize they are being defeated, they will try to create chaos everywhere. It could be in the Middle East, it could be here. It’s not about gaining land, money or influence. It’s radicals who want to kill everyone else.

“I still think we have a few years ahead fighting ISIS.  Even when we think we have finished it, it will not be finished. They are looking for new areas to bring up a new generation of fighters.”

Even with occasional political disagreement with the U.S., behind the scenes the two countries – with Israel near the front lines – are obviously sharing intelligence.

“We are working very closely,” Danon said. “I (formerly) was the deputy minister of defense. I know that we share information. We are in the same boat. If terrorists would acquire a nuclear bomb, it would be used in Tel Aviv or New York.”

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