Israeli Ambassador to Georgia: Our interest is not only friendship but to widen perspectives

Israeli Ambassador to Georgia Yuval Fuchs. Photo by Nino Alavidze/, Jun 19, 2014, Tbilisi, Georgia
Q&A with Israeli Ambassador to Georgia Yuval Fuchs

When speaking about the Georgia-Israel relationship, Israeli Ambassador to Georgia believed the two countries’ relationship was not only a friendship but a real partnership. And although there might be challenges in the future, such challenges would only enhance the relationship between Georgia and Israel.

With a Master’s degree in Philosophy and History from Albrecht-Ludwigs University in Freiburg in Breisgau, Mr Fuchs joined the Foreign Service of Israeli 20 years ago and since then, he has worked on international relations and conflict transformation in places like Tel Aviv, Prague, Berlin and Moscow. had a special opportunity to interview Mr Fuchs and to ask him several questions about the relations between Georgia and Israel, the state of the Middle East, as well as the approach he takes in his work.

  • Q: Your Excellency, you have spent the past two years as the Ambassador of Israel in Georgia. What is your most important achievement in this time?

A: I am fully immersed in the process of working and I believe I have not got to the bottom yet. There is still much to be done. If I can only mention one thing that is important for both countries, it would be the visa free travel rules between Georgia and Israel. I am proud for helping facilitate this achievement. It is first and foremost achievement of the two countries’ Governments, including the Prime Ministers.

  • Q: Non-visa travel rules between the two countries starting from mid-March this year has allowed Georgian citizens to stay in Israel without visas for up to 90 days. The Israeli Government said it had decided "in principle” to lift visa requirements for the Georgian citizens. Could you clarify what "in principal” means and give further details.

A: Georgia is a very important country for Israel, it is a friendly country. This was a natural progression of our long-standing good relations and the time was right to development this relationship further. Both sides were interested in the agreement and since it was introduced, I can tell you things have been going very well.

In the first seven weeks since visa-free travel was introduced, tourist numbers had reached a level equivalent to what we would normally see in six months. I believe this is a nice boost. And this is only the beginning. We have to work harder on both sides. In 2013 Israeli hosted more than 5,000 Georgian tourists and if we reach 10,000 then it will be a wonderful beginning.

 Yuval Fuchs during his interview with Photo by Nino Alavidze/

  • Q: Ahead of former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s visit to Israel, he gave an interview with Jerusalem Post where he was quoted as saying: "My desire and dream is for Israel to become our strategic partner. I am not hiding this fact but highlighting it. Israel and Jews are interesting for me and it is good for my country to establish deep ties.” He also spoke much about, as he put it, his and Georgians "special relationship” with Israel and "respect” for your country. Would it be fair to say that since 2013, Georgia and Israel’s relationship has become even more special?

A: Relations between Georgia and Israel have been developing for many years. I have been dealing with Georgia for almost five years now and despite ups and downs in former years – there were always more ups than downs and the trend was always up. PM Ivanishvili opened up a new page in our relations. A good, deep and understanding meeting between him and Israeli PM Netanyahu was held and many questions including regional security, counter terrorism, economic relations and relations between the people were discussed.

We have opened this new page but it is the job of diplomats to look for new opportunities of how to reach a new level of relations and to make things more achievable between Georgia and Israel.

  • Q: The Inter-Governmental Joint Economic Commission was established this year after PM Irakli Garibashvili visited Israel. Has this organisation started to work yet?

A: Visa-free travel was the immediate result of this cooperation. We are expecting Israeli Ministers of Agriculture to arrive in Georgia in the second half of June to further deepen cooperation in this regard. We have also had very intensive discussion about investing in innovations in Georgia.

Furthermore, we follow up all possible fields of economic relations but what we have done is not enough. There is a need for more agreements, and these are in the pipeline. In the meantime, an agreement on social security is being discussed between the two countries.

  • Q: It was decided the Israel-Georgia Business Council would be established to support bilateral relationships between the business communities of both countries. At the time it was said investment opportunities were "still not properly assimilated”. What can be done to remedy this?

A: The first thing relates to the trust of Israeli companies in Georgia. We have daily meetings with business companies and they have to believe that there is a need and market here. If they produce goods in Georgia, China or Israel - they have to believe there is a market for their products, either here in Georgia or in the wider region.

I believe trade comes with investment and investment comes with trade. Before we decide to go down the route of a major investment we want to test the market.

Israel is highly interested in boosting trade between the countries in many forms, particularly agriculture. Agriculture means technology and knowledge and not only potatoes and cucumbers. You need more, you need greenhouses and technologies and these are the technologies that will offer benefit.

Potential sectors of interest from Israel investors are telecommunication, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, innovation and hi-tech, which is not highly developed here yet.

  • Q: What are the criteria Israel uses to choose its partners worldwide - for example Georgia?

A: Israel concentrates on the objectives which are important to enhance our foreign policy here and worldwide.

The first priority is the political dimension. Iran is existentially the number one threat for us. What I mean is that it is not just a threat but that country poses a real danger to the existence of the Israel. It has the capability to have a nuclear bomb and this poses immense danger for the state of Israel.

I believe Georgia, despite being not very big country, and its geopolitical circumstance plays a very important role in this region. Georgia is not involved in dialogue with Iran and the so-called P5+1 six world powers but Georgia is very important in terms of region, commitment to sanctions of the United Nations and we are also very committed.

Israel believes Hezbollah should be designated as a terror organisation. This is the policy of the United States and every country should also recognise Hezbollah as a terror organisation. Georgia is very close to our region and this country is very relevant to regional stability in the Middle East speaking about counter terrorism. We believe regional security in our regions is important for you and vice versa. And security in the Caucasus is important for us and vice versa.

People-to-people relations are very crucial for us too. Even Georgian Jewish live in Israel.

In terms of economic relations - I believe we should be among Georgia’s top ten trade partner countries. It may take three years but I believe we can achieve this.

  • Q: You are citizen of one of the oldest nations in the world, so what is your assessment of the stage of Georgian democracy today? Where do you see the major challenges for Georgia in its integration into the European Union. Where does Georgia actually stand in this respect?

A: Georgia has aspirations to become a member of NATO and the EU. I was serving in the Czech Republic in the 90s when it was the same situation there as it is now in Georgia. I left the Czech Republic shortly before it joined the EU but I saw how good it was for that country. I believe Georgia will see the same benefits if it is committed to following through with its strategic choice.

In a wider sense, [Georgia and Israel] also shares the same values despite [Israel] not having such aspirations, but we have very good cooperation with both structures and we understand Georgia as being a part of the western world. We have shared values such as democracy and human rights.

I believe this is the only way. It is challenging to develop free and fair elections but to develop deep commitment, strong institutions and political culture is essential.

  • Q: The latest Israeli-Palestinian peace talk backed by the US collapsed. Was there any possibility of even expanding the dialogue?

A: US Secretary of State [John] Kerry has been working hard to facilitate negotiations to reach some kind of principle paper by the end of April. The Israeli Government was also ready to take very measures which are not easy to take, including releasing prisoners who are not just criminals. These people are murderers and terrorists. They are civilian terrorists not in the war but in supermarkets, busses and at schools. It was a very difficult step for the Israeli Government to take.

But what was the reaction of Abu Mazan? At the last minute instead of working hard to establish some kind of agreement, he made the decision to unite the Government with Hamas – a terror organization. I’m sorry to say so but it is true. There was no realistic chance an agreement would be reached on all issues however it was possible to extend the timeframe of our negotiations.

  • Q: Ambassador, in which way do you spend your free time in Georgia? What are your hobbies and favourite activities?

A: There are very many things you can do here during your free time. Georgia has really excellent food and culture. If you asked me what I enjoy most - it is travelling through Georgia to see the landscapes and to meet the people. I believe in order to understand people you have to meet them where they live. This gives me great pleasure and a much better understanding of the Georgian people and the culture.