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With Real-Life Diplomacy on Hold, Israel Launches Twitter "Embassy" in Arab States

BY Lisa Goldman | Thursday, July 25 2013

Twitter screengrab.

In its latest foray into digital diplomacy, the Israeli foreign ministry has established a Twitter "embassy" for the purpose of engaging with the Arab countries of the Gulf region. Called @IsraelintheGCC, the account was launched on July 18. As of this writing, it has 685 followers.

Israel is not in a state of war with any of the Gulf states — as it is with Lebanon, for example. But neither has Israel ever had any official diplomatic relations with the CCG (Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf), which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Instead, it has engaged in quiet trade relations, establishing them first with Qatar, home base of Al Jazeera, in 1996. Dubai has quietly granted visas to Israeli business people or artists on a case-by-case basis.

But the Qatar government closed Israel's Doha trade mission in 2009, when the Israeli Army launched a military operation against Gaza. That same year, citing popular anger over the Gaza invasion, Dubai caused a furore when it refused to grant a visa to renowned Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, who was scheduled to participate in an international tournament there.

Dubai granted Peer a visa to play in the 2010 championship, but in general Israel's relations with the CCG has been particularly frosty in recent years. Three years ago Mossad agents assassinated Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander, in a Dubai hotel room. Dubai was enraged at the incident, which involved Israeli agents using fraudulent passports and violating the Gulf state's sovereignty.

Public opinion in the Gulf tends to be pro-Palestinian, but Israel's 2012 attack on Gaza and its ongoing military occupation of the West Bank fueled popular anti-Israel sentiment.

The official position of the Arab League, of which the Gulf states are all members, is that until Israel resolves its territorial dispute with the Palestinians there can be no official diplomatic recognition. So far, the only countries to break ranks with this policy are Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and Jordan.

The Israeli government has cultivated a prominent presence on Twitter over the past three years or so. The army spokesman's office is particularly active, with individual representatives often engaging directly with both friendly and hostile followers.

As techPresident noted, the Israeli army recently went so far as to declare war on Twitter.

In November 2012 its spokespeople announce a renewed military campaign against Gaza on the social media platform. The spokespeople for the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist party that rules Gaza, engaged in an aggressive online "war of tweets" with Israeli Army spokespeople, even as rockets rained down on civilians living on both sides of the border.

So far Israel's approach to the Gulf states appears to be much more diplomatic. Recent tweets include holiday greetings to the people of Oman and a video of a popular Israeli singer's cover of a popular Iraqi / Kuwaiti song.

But one of the tweets hints that the honeyed words might be drizzled with a touch of vinegar. The @IsraelintheGCC Ramadan greeting includes a wish for "#peace and #humanity to all Muslims."

A Qatar-based user responded with the accusation that Israel was being "condescending on purpose."

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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