In the coming days, the government will be requested to approve the appointment of Homefront Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Independence Party) as Israel’s next ambassador to Beijing.
Vilnai appeared before the Civil Service Commission on Tuesday as part of a routine process for the appointments of senior officials who have not undergone specialized training by the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hopes to have Vilnai’s appointment approved during the next Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Vilnai will replace the current ambassador, Amos Nadai, who served as deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia department prior to his appointment as ambassador to China.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Vilnai, 68, was deputy commander of the rescue team sent to free Jewish and Israeli passengers held hostage by Palestinian terrorists at the Entebbe airport in Uganda, in 1976. Vilnai went on to become head of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate and deputy chief of General Staff. In his political career, Vilnai served as minister of science, culture and sport, minister of science and technology, deputy minister of defense and, currently, minister of Homefront Defense.
Commenting on the appointment of a new ambassador to China, Lieberman said on Tuesday that “China is an important country with which we would like to have stronger ties.”
Vilani preferred not to comment on the matter prior to the government’s final approval.
A previous holder of the title “Ambassador to China” was Ora Namir - a member of Knesset from 1974 to 1996, who also held the posts of minister of the environment and minister of labor and social welfare. After her ministerial posts, Namir served as the country’s ambassador to China and Mongolia.
Minister without portfolio, Yossi Peled (Likud), is slated to take over Vilnai’s post of Homefront Defense minister, and, when Vilnai resigns from the Knesset (as is required by people serving in the civil service), former Labor party MK Shakib Shanan will take his place in the Knesset.
Surprisingly, Shanan announced that when the transition takes place, he will join the Independence party. “I trust [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, and decided to work with him,” Shanan said.
Shanan’s name has come up several times as a future candidate for the post of minority affairs minister.