Until last week, Mike Herzog’s claim to fame outside of most circles was that his baby brother Isaac was the 11th president of Israel. But on Friday he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Herzog’s appointment was announced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. By agreement with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is slated to take over as prime minister at the end of next year, Herzog will continue to serve in the position when Bennett steps down. Herzog’s nomination was slated to be brought before the cabinet on Sunday.
Who is this man that can be a consensus candidate for a government of left, right and centrist politicians, and what are his qualifications to hold what is arguably Israel’s most important foreign diplomatic post?
Herzog was appointed as ambassador to the US, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, “in light of his rich experience, over many years, in the security and diplomatic arenas, and his deep familiarity with the strategic issues facing the State of Israel, especially the Iranian nuclear issue.”
Lapid, in a tweet on Friday, said Herzog is “exactly the right person to serve in this strategically important role. I look forward to working with him to further strengthen and deepen the Israel-US relationship.”
The position opened up last month when Israel’s ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, said he would leave the position as soon as a new ambassador was appointed. Erdan, a senior member of the opposition Likud party, has been serving concurrently as ambassador to the United Nations and reportedly will continue to hold that position.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Michael (Mike) Herzog, 69, had a four-decade career in the Israel Defense Forces. During his time in the military, he served in a series of senior positions, including head of strategic planning at the Planning Directorate, and military secretary and chief-of-staff to four defense ministers: Ehud Barak, Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. He is a graduate of the prestigious National Defense College.
In recent years, he has served as an international fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and at the Jewish People Policy Institute.
Herzog, whose father was Israel’s sixth president and whose grandfather was the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi from 1936 to 1959, has played an active role in many diplomatic negotiations under five prime ministers. This includes most rounds of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians, and many rounds of talks hosted by the United States such as the Wye Plantation summit, Camp David summit, and Annapolis. He was former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s special envoy on the peace process from 2009 to 2010 and was a peace negotiator during secret talks with the Palestinians in 2013 and 2014.
Through his work with the Americans on achieving peace with Israel’s neighbors, Herzog has formed relationships US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
But it is Herzog’s experience on Iran and its nuclear program that is perhaps most significant at this time. Israel views Iran and its nuclear program as a threat to the state and the region and is working to dissuade the US from reviving the nuclear pact signed between the Islamic Republic and the world powers in 2015. The US left the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018 under the Trump administration. Biden has vowed to rejoin the deal that Iran has repeatedly violated in the last couple of years, and the US has participated in several rounds of indirect negotiations since April alongside the official negotiations of the world powers with no agreement.
Last week, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told ambassadors from countries on the United Nations Security Council that Iran is 10 weeks away from acquiring enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
“The Iranian regime is threatening us and sparking a regional arms race,” Gantz said during a joint briefing with Lapid at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.