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What Israel’s ambassador said on Yom Kippur [CORRECTED]

The Israeli government has agreed to go along with President Obama’s policy of engaging Iran at least until the end of the year, Israeli’s new man in Washington said Monday. Speaking to the conservative Washington congregation Adas Israel on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Amb. Michael B. Oren spelled out the cautious approach ...

The Israeli government has agreed to go along with President Obama’s policy of engaging Iran at least until the end of the year, Israeli’s new man in Washington said Monday.

Speaking to the conservative Washington congregation Adas Israel on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Amb. Michael B. Oren spelled out the cautious approach that Israel has taken to the new international effort to hold talks with the Iranian regime, stressing that the support of the Jewish state for talks with Tehran (which begin Thursday) was not open-ended.

"The government of Israel has supported [Obama’s] position on engagement with Iran. It was not an easy position to adopt," Oren told the fasting congregants. "We see a clock ticking on the wall, but we support it, with assurances that this will not be an open-ended process, that by the end of the year, the [U.S.] administration will have a good idea about where Iran stood on this process, and that failing to persuade Iran diplomatically to stop enriching uranium on its soil, the United States would lead the international effort to impose crippling sanctions on Iran."

As for when or under what circumstances Israel might launch a unilateral strike against Iran, he said, "We’ll defer that answer until later on."

Oren also lashed out at the United Nations, and particularly the recent Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during the last military action in the Gaza Strip. The report was ordered by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, and was the result of an investigation by former South African judge and International Criminal Tribunal prosecutor Richard Goldstone.

Assailing the credibility of the report, Oren said it "established a mandate that assumed Israel’s guilt in advance, which included a judge who published her findings condemning Israel for war crimes in advance, which conducted its hearings under the auspices of Hamas … and thanked Hamas for its cooperation."

"We take that kind of cooperation very, very seriously as a very severe threat to Israel’s security," he added.

He compared it to a hypothetical situation whereby the U.N. would investigate American operations in Afghanistan by holding hearings under the auspices of the Taliban.

"We in Israel as a democracy, and as a Jewish state, are taking the responsibility upon ourselves by investigating ourselves," he added, referring to several ongoing inquiries the Israeli military is conducting into alleged abuses during the January Gaza operation.

Oren, who first moved to Israel to live on kibbutz at age 15, was born and raised in northern New Jersey by what he calls "a mildly Zionist" family. He had to renounce his American citizenship upon taking up his new post.

He supported Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and has said that Israel must ultimately close settlements in the West Bank to preserve its identity as a Jewish state. A YouTube video of him giving these remarks evoked criticism in Israel when his name was originally floated for ambassador to Washington.

In his new role, Oren speaks in proud but pragmatic terms.

"Peace is a great goal, we all desire it," he said Monday. "But we’ve accomplished all that we’ve accomplished in the last six decades without peace."

CORRECTION: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated, "Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, ‘If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can’t let that person come.’"

Oren was actually responding to a question from moderator Jeffrey Goldberg about whether Israel’s use of power since its inception was in accordance with Jewish moral standards, and the above quote references the teachings of the Talmud. Oren was not speaking about Iran; he was making the argument that Israel had in fact exceeded the Talmud’s moral requirements in its recent operations in Gaza. FP regrets the error.

The Israeli government has agreed to go along with President Obama’s policy of engaging Iran at least until the end of the year, Israeli’s new man in Washington said Monday.

Speaking to the conservative Washington congregation Adas Israel on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Amb. Michael B. Oren spelled out the cautious approach that Israel has taken to the new international effort to hold talks with the Iranian regime, stressing that the support of the Jewish state for talks with Tehran (which begin Thursday) was not open-ended.

"The government of Israel has supported [Obama’s] position on engagement with Iran. It was not an easy position to adopt," Oren told the fasting congregants. "We see a clock ticking on the wall, but we support it, with assurances that this will not be an open-ended process, that by the end of the year, the [U.S.] administration will have a good idea about where Iran stood on this process, and that failing to persuade Iran diplomatically to stop enriching uranium on its soil, the United States would lead the international effort to impose crippling sanctions on Iran."

As for when or under what circumstances Israel might launch a unilateral strike against Iran, he said, "We’ll defer that answer until later on."

Oren also lashed out at the United Nations, and particularly the recent Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during the last military action in the Gaza Strip. The report was ordered by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, and was the result of an investigation by former South African judge and International Criminal Tribunal prosecutor Richard Goldstone.

Assailing the credibility of the report, Oren said it "established a mandate that assumed Israel’s guilt in advance, which included a judge who published her findings condemning Israel for war crimes in advance, which conducted its hearings under the auspices of Hamas … and thanked Hamas for its cooperation."

"We take that kind of cooperation very, very seriously as a very severe threat to Israel’s security," he added.

He compared it to a hypothetical situation whereby the U.N. would investigate American operations in Afghanistan by holding hearings under the auspices of the Taliban.

"We in Israel as a democracy, and as a Jewish state, are taking the responsibility upon ourselves by investigating ourselves," he added, referring to several ongoing inquiries the Israeli military is conducting into alleged abuses during the January Gaza operation.

Oren, who first moved to Israel to live on kibbutz at age 15, was born and raised in northern New Jersey by what he calls "a mildly Zionist" family. He had to renounce his American citizenship upon taking up his new post.

He supported Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and has said that Israel must ultimately close settlements in the West Bank to preserve its identity as a Jewish state. A YouTube video of him giving these remarks evoked criticism in Israel when his name was originally floated for ambassador to Washington.

In his new role, Oren speaks in proud but pragmatic terms.

"Peace is a great goal, we all desire it," he said Monday. "But we’ve accomplished all that we’ve accomplished in the last six decades without peace."

CORRECTION: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated, "Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, ‘If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can’t let that person come.’"

Oren was actually responding to a question from moderator Jeffrey Goldberg about whether Israel’s use of power since its inception was in accordance with Jewish moral standards, and the above quote references the teachings of the Talmud. Oren was not speaking about Iran; he was making the argument that Israel had in fact exceeded the Talmud’s moral requirements in its recent operations in Gaza. FP regrets the error.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin