“You never leave the Army, the Army never leaves you”

Michael Baror (L) and Ariel Braverman
Michael Baror (L) and Ariel Braverman

Michael Baror and Ariel Braverman are cadets with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, undergoing training to become diplomats. In an interview to BalkanDefense, they spoke about their new professional experience and how diplomacy and the Army go hand in hand to serve a powerful state.

First of all, a brief introduction. What brings you to Bucharest?

Michael Baror: We are cadets of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are midway through our training which means 7 months and a main part of it consists of visiting the embassies of Israel abroad, which is what brings us here to Bucharest after we have gone to Berlin already. We want to see how diplomatic work is on the ground, how things actually happen, how relationships are formed, especially in Romania which is a friendly country.

It is the second day of our visit in Bucharest and we had the pleasure and the honor to join the Ambassador in different events and visits.

Ariel Braverman: So, as he said, the main point is to connect the theory with practice. This embassy here is smaller, compared to the one in Berlin, and is much closer to the ones where we will first work.

What are the stages of your professional deployment? Will you work first for the ministry or will you be posted somewhere?

Michael: Well, in theory, we’ll be working in an office of the MFA for a year then we will be posted somewhere, but the reality is that there is big need for us abroad and almost all of us get assigned immediately. In our case, Ariel will be posted as DCM (deputy chief of mission) in Astana, Kazakhstan, and I will be posted as DCM in Nairobi, Kenya.

I got the chance to take a brief look at your resumes and saw you were all doing fine in your professional life and I was wondering what made you to make this other professional choice now?

Ariel: I am the second oldest person who is taking this course, I will be 39 soon, and the oldest person in the course is 5 days older than me.

Is there an age limit?

Michael: It used to be many years ago but the Supreme Court of Israel considered it to be illegal because one cannot ask for people’s age when they apply and the good thing is that this way it brought to the MFA many people with much more professional background and I think is very beneficial because we are more skilled and more professional than being fresh out of the universities.

Which one of you is with a medical background?

Ariel: I am. Why I chose diplomacy, to come back to your question… for many reasons, but the major one is the fact that is one of the fields in which you can do what you want to do, in terms of enhancing your skills, while serving your country, being a patriot at the end of the day.

To put it briefly, is it a softer side of the military service?

Michael: I think the comparison is fair in the sense that it is a service, it’s not only a profession. It is not a career, it is a public service. The hierarchy is not as structured as it is in the Army but as you know we all serve in the Army in Israel but when you get into the public service it always gives you a sense of direction, points that you’re aiming at, things you’re trying to achieve. So you have a goal that you take with you wherever you go and you make it happen.

I did some research and I found out that the recruitment process is very strict, only a few of you get to pass the examinations.

Ariel: Yes, it is true. In our case, just 25 out of 2.500 candidates, almost 10 per cent. And the recruitment process takes a year and it has 4 stages: psycho-technical exams, group dynamics, such as testing negotiation skills, then security backgrounds and so on.

Rep: I know that the Israeli army is very strong and I know that the military career is highly prioritized in Israel, unlike the situation here, despite being a NATO member state…

Michael: I am not sure I’d use the term “prioritized” but it is true that more people choose the military career than probably here in Romania and it is true that people serving more time and getting higher ranks are seen with more respect in the society. Since the service is mandatory, almost to anyone, people go in the army by default and many choose to stay and develop a career. Even those who do not choose a military career have respect for that because we’ve all been there. Since we mentioned similarities between the foreign service and the military service, they both involve sacrifices and prices that a family has to pay. My wife is paying a price for me being posted in Nairobi. The same is in the army. My wife is paying the price for me being posted in Nairobi because that was my choice. I am also religious and Nairobi doesn’t have Jewish facilities, there is a synagogue but it will be far from the place I will live, kosher food is a problem (by comparison, the military service is adapted to religious soldiers in Israel, granting them all they need).

Ariel: Even after you finish the military service in Israel, you remain a reserve. So the army doesn’t leave you and you do not really leave the army. You live a civil normal life, but if something happens, you have to dump everything, say goodbye to your kids and to your wife and put on your uniform and go. You can switch from home to battlefield in just a few hours literally. It’s part of your life.

As part of the military, I found myself in Haiti, after the earthquake, and because I have a medical background, even though I was wearing my military ranks, nobody cared since it was so hot that we were shirtless, what I did all day was to be in the operating room for kids’ orthopedics. We supplied water, we did even social service, so the title is Army, but you get to do other stuff than the classic army things. For example, one night I was ordered to get my gear because we had to go somewhere, had no idea where, and we ended up at the Syrian border. We took injured kids and treated them at an Israeli hospital.

Michael: Israel is among a few countries in the world which educates its soldiers coming from various backgrounds. The state literally assigns people to teach the soldiers literature, history, math etc so they could graduate and become whatever they want, whether they stay in the army or not. My wife was one of these educators and people like her are very important for the army.

Ariel: I was one of those. You can probably recognize my Russian accent. That’s because I was born in Moscow where I lived till 14. So when I came to Israel I was quite a lost kid, you can call it this way. I did not know a word in Hebrew, for instance, but eventually I passed an exam and found myself in the military school where I did my 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Half a year later I was speaking Hebrew fluently, two and a half years after my arrival in Israel I was completely different.

But do you think diplomacy is still relevant today since we see countries encroaching upon others’ territories? Do you think diplomacy should be backed up by a strong military in order to have a strong say in international affairs?

Ariel: Diplomacy and military force are not always at the opposite poles. Machiavelli used to say that diplomacy only closes the gap between a war and the next one. I think the classic diplomacy is a little bit changing right now, becoming more straightforward, the speeches are becoming less fluid and more direct, sharper, clearer. Yes, I think that they go hand in hand, complementing each other. I do not think someone on this planet, especially someone who has been in the military and knows what war looks like, still wants to fight in the battlefield.

Michael: I think your question is an example of some sort of failure of diplomacy. If diplomacy worked as it should this question would never be asked. Since he mentioned Machiavelli, I would also like to point to another cliché and remind what Churchill used to say: “you should always speak softly, but hold a very large stick in your hand”. Of course that diplomacy alone doesn’t work, it has to be backed by something, it can be the Army, it can be resilience, a backbone. I think you need to know what you stand for. Because when you do not know what you promote, when you have in mind only something vague about what you want to represent and to promote, then the diplomacy fails. And also, diplomacy should always be backed up by principles and that calls for us to think what those principles are.