THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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.
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.