Another layer has been added to the ever-deepening bilateral relationship between Canada and Israel.
Last December, Israel quietly named Brig.-Gen (Res.) Eden Attias as its first Ministry of Defence attaché to Ottawa. Prior to that, Israel’s only defence attaché in North America was stationed in Washington, D.C.
Given the deepening ties and friendship between Canada and Israel, the moment was right for his new post to be created, Attias said.
“Due to the flourishing relationship between Canada and Israel, one of the recent discussions between our defence ministries involved looking for ways to get more people on the ground in each country. We have a lot of things we’re sharing,” he said.
In his first full interview with the media since taking up his post, Attias, 45, told The CJN last week that he’s eager to begin making contacts across the country, as well as to promote Israel’s interests to Canadians, and vice versa.
“I’m here as a two-way servant: at once a representative of the Israeli military and of the Israeli people,” he said while on a two-day visit to Toronto last Thursday and Friday.
While in the city, he gave a briefing to staff at the Canadian Forces College, and he also met with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, among other engagements.
Attias said that he’s familiar with Canada, “but to really learn about a country, you have to live it. And that’s what I’m here to do.”
He noted that while he’s maintaining his own mission in Ottawa, he’s working closely with Ambassador Miriam Ziv and Israeli embassy staff to promote his country’s interests.
While his diplomatic career is in its early stages, Attias has a distinguished military resumé, mostly as a pilot and leader in the IAF.
As a young pilot, he helped with the covert rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who were making the harrowing trek across the desert.
He also helped plan 1991’s Operation Solomon, in which over the course of 36 hours, non-stop flights by El Al cargo planes and IAF transport aircraft flew more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Attias also oversaw the move of the IAF’s cargo base from Lod to the Nevatim air base in the Negev. He then commanded the Nevatim base from 2008 to 2011. He considers the transfer to be one of the country’s greatest strategic moves, as it consolidated both the IAF fighter and cargo units, as well as helped create jobs and infrastructure to further settle the Negev.
He said he considers his inaugural posting to Ottawa both an honour and a challenge. Scheduled for a 2-1/2-year term, Attias said he’s paving the way for his successors and hopes to open many doors for Israel with Canada’s military industries and to connect Canadian firms to opportunities in Israel.
He said acclimatizing to the change in culture, and temperature, are two of the more difficult hurdles he’s faced so far.
“A friend of mine in Nova Scotia told me I was crazy for coming here, especially in December,” he joked. “But the welcome my family and I have received from Canadians, and especially from the Canadian military [representatives] in Ottawa, has been amazing. Everyone has been helpful.”
From a community standpoint, he said as an Israeli Jew, he’s slowly learning just how much the Canadian Jewish community supports Israel.
“Israelis are starting to understand that Canada is a separate entity from the U.S.,” Attias said. “And, in my opinion, Israel needs to start separating the two a little more. To achieve that, we need more interaction between Canadians and Israelis, but not just on a governmental level.”
On a personal note, he said he’s excited to have the opportunity to watch more hockey – a sport he’s always been “crazy for,” even growing up in Israel, he said – and to learn how to skate.
One of his first social events in Ottawa earlier this year was playing in a friendly hockey game between diplomats and a team made up of Canadian military personnel led by Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of defence staff with the Canadian Forces.
It was just Attias’ fifth time on skates, and he told Radio-Canada at the time that he spent “more time on my butt than on my skates.”
Attias said he’s determined to become a better skater, and his family has already adopted the Ottawa Senators as their favourite Canadian sports team.
“My family and I think we’ll have a great tour here. The way Canadians embrace and respect different cultures is impressive.”