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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2016

57

with Begin would be counterproductive. Fortunately, that view

prevailed, and the visit was crowned with success.

There is perhaps no stronger indication of how well Lewis

performed his duties in Tel Aviv than the fact that just days after

his November 1980 electoral victory, Ronald Reagan asked Lewis

to stay on in Israel. That was an almost unprecedented vote of

confidence in a career diplomat, particularly one named to his

post by a president of another political party.

Amb. Lewis was the first foreign representative to hear from

Prime Minister Begin that the Israeli Air Force had destroyed

Iraq’s nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981. He was also intimately

engaged in the diplomacy surrounding Israel’s Lebanon War,

which began in June 1982.

It was under President Reagan that Lewis was instructed to

undertake perhaps the most uncomfortable task of his ambas-

sadorship. In August 1982 he was instructed to convey to Prime

Minister Begin, while the latter was on vacation in northern

Israel, the contents of what would be known as the Reagan Peace

Plan. This proposal had been prepared with the active participa-

tion of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan—but without Israel.

Begin was furious, but Pres. Reagan unveiled the plan anyway

on Sept. 1, 1982. As Lewis predicted, it failed to advance the cause

of peace. The episode did not lessen Begin’s personal affection for

Lewis, or his admiration for the envoy’s professionalism.

Professional Diplomacy

Beyond the realm of private diplomacy, where Lewis

excelled, he was a very popular figure in Israel. Warm, accessible

and charming, he frequently dressed casually, in keeping with

the informality of Israelis, and attended sports events. And even

though the ambassador could barely speak a word of Hebrew,

many Israelis thought he was Jewish, which he wasn’t.

Lewis had a singular ability to comprehend the most intimate

fears harbored by Israelis, to grasp the essence of their yearnings.

He was especially adept at dealing with Israeli political leaders.

He forged a close relationship with Begin and became a good

friend of other politicians, notwithstanding their diverse political

leanings and their different personalities.

Samuel Lewis’ ambassadorship in Israel demonstrates that a

professional diplomat can have an important influence on the

shaping of foreign policy. Beyond the input Lewis was able to

bring on occasion to the actual formulation of foreign policy, he

managed to enhance his country’s image, values and interests by

the force of his personality and through his singular diplomatic

style. For that and much more, both the United States and Israel

owe him a debt of gratitude.

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