Name: H.E Hagay M. Behar
Job Title: Ambassador
Professional Career: Diplomat
Ambassador Behar joined the Foreign Min- istry 20 years ago as a cadet. He has served in the embassies of Israel in the Ivory Coast and Belgium, and as consul in the consul- ate General of the State of Israel in Chica- go (USA). He was born in Petah Tikva in 1963. Following his service in the IDF, he completed his B.A studies in International Relations and Spanish & Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and later received his M.A. degree in Law Studies at the Bar Ilan University in 2009. He is fluent in Hebrew, Spanish and English, and has a fair command of French and Portuguese.
Ambassador Behar served as the 21st Israeli Ambassador to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, between August 2012 to October 2014.
MI: What is your opinion on Myan- mar after serving as an ambassador for over two years?
My impression is that you are facing a chal- lenging period, that will have considerable impact on the future and prosperity of the country, both in the short and long run. I believe that there are decisions to be taken regarding the peace process and the nation- al reconciliation, and the continuity of the reforms on the political and economic are- na. We all should be encouraged by the good will and sincere efforts of all the parties. From the point of view of the internation- al community, I believe that it is crucial to encourage these efforts, and provide, if re- quested, the necessary aid, based on each country’s experience in similar processes, in order to support the continuity of the process.
MI: What is the mission of Israel Em- bassy in Myanmar?
The main mission is to strengthen the bilateral relations between the government and the people of our two countries. We are now concentrating in various fields principal among them water treatment, agriculture, agro technology, telecommunication, health and education. Today, with the changes and reforms that are taking place in Myanmar, we believe that we can move forward and expand our collaboration in those fields and in many others. I would like to emphasize as already mentioned, that we did it in the past, we are continuing doing it in the present and there is no doubt that we will continue doing it in the future. A good example of our contribution can be seen in the agricultural sector. Since 1994, hundreds of Myanmar students participate every year in a special agricultural project, that combines theoreti- cal studies with practical work. They stay for a period of 10 months in Israel, where they are exposed to the most advanced technolo- gies used in cultivation and innovation, and on their return to Myanmar, they are capa- ble of implementing them, and help with this country’s advancement.
MI: How do you describe the relation- ship between Israel and Myanmar?
The people of our two countries can be proud of the long lasting and friendly rela- tions that started in the early fifties of the last century. Moreover, during in 2013-14 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relation, with a series of events sponsored by the Em- bassy, among them a logo competition that involved students from the culture univer- sity, the first ever Israeli film festival that took place in Yangon (2013), in Mandalay and Naypaytaw (2014), a book best-seller translation that was later donated to public libraries all over the country, a recreation trolley project donated to children hospital, and many more. From the economic point of view, we increased the volume of trade and concluded an agreement of protecting investments.
MI: Tell us one thing that surprised you when you first started your as- signment in Myanmar.
During the preparation for my mission in Myanmar, I learned a lot about the long last- ing and special relations prevailing between the two countries. In Israel, we still warmly remember that it was your first prime min- ister U Nu, who visited the new born State of Israel (1955), a visit that was followed by the historical visit of our legendary prime minister, David Ben-Gurion (1961). More- over, it was only after my arrival, and my frequent visits and meetings with public and private representatives, on the differ- ent States and Regions, not to mention my informal encounter with the general public, that I was exposed to the unique friendship and mutual appreciation that characterize the relations between the leaders and the people of our nations. In Myanmar, there is much appreciation of the achievements of Israel, especially in the agricultural, science and technology fields.
MI: What was your biggest moment being Israel ambassador to Myanmar in the previous years?
Well, it is hard to point one specific mo- ment, since I feel very fortunate that during my period we were able to procure signifi- cant bilateral achievement, such as the re- newal of high level official visit between the countries, signature of important bilateral agreements and a significant increase in the volume of trade between the countries. But, if I have to choose one or two highlights, I will say that I’m personally proud of two special and unique projects, launched by the Embassy, in the fields of Education and Health.
In the Educational field, we were the first country to translate a children book, the “Soul Bird” by the Israeli author Michal Snunit, not only into Burmese language, but also to other five more ethnic languages (Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Mon and Shan). The project was launched during the Irrawaddy Literature Festival (Mandalay, Feb 2013), and since then we have donated to more than 6,500 books to public libraries in the different states and divisions of Myanmar. I also believe that this humble donation by the “People of the Book”, will contribute in promoting reading habits of the young gen- eration in Myanmar.
The second project, this time in the health sector, was launched in June 2014. This is an innovative idea in which we introduced “recreation trolleys” in Myanmar five chil- drens hospitals, in Mandalay and Yangon. The concept behind the project is to try to facilitate the hospitalization period for the hospitalized children by providing them some kind of recreation, including books’, toys and other recreation materials.
MI: How do you see bilateral trade re- lations between Israel and Myanmar?
When I arrived in Myanmar, only two years ago, the volume of trade between the coun- tries was irrelevant and reached an amount of two million dollars, but during the last year we have seen a growing activity and the figures have increased significantly. Furthermore, we have been working together with DICA, and concluded an agreement of protecting investment, that will no doubt facilitate and encourage the business com- munity from both countries, to develop and expand the bilateral trade between the countries.
MI: How many Israel companies have invested in Myanmar so far?
Today, there are a growing number of Is- raeli businessment and companies that are willing to invest in Myanmar, mainly in the fields of Agriculture, Communica- tion, Medical equipment, health and many more. When I just arrived there I could have counted them in two hands, but today, we are familiar with more than a hundred, that are visiting Myanmar regularly, searching for possible investments and appropriate local partners. I truly believe that with the implementation of the mentioned agree- ment, and the continuation of the economic reforms in Myanmar, the volume will in- crease and in a few years, it will equal and even exceed the trade volume existing today with other countries in South East Asia.
MI: What are the business opportu- nities from Israel for Myanmar busi- ness personalities?
There is a vast field of potential business opportunities. Since we have complemen- tary economies and we do not compete in the same markets, it allows us to work to- gether and combine your requirements with our knowhow, our innovation with your needs. As our former president, H.E Mr. Shimon Peres remarked …” In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to utilizeappreciate our greatest national ad- vantage: our minds. Through creativity and innovation, we transformed barren deserts into flourishing fields and pioneered new frontiers in science and technology….”. To- day, in the beginning of the 21 century, the State of Israel is widely recognized by its advanced level of technology and innova- tion. Not only that we are described as the “Start up Nation”, we are eager to share that knowledge with other nations, especially with our friends. Just as an example Isra- el is considered one of the most advanced countries on water treatment and irrigation. Keeping in mind the huge challenges that Myanmar confronts in its dry areas (Magwe, Mandalay and Sagaing regions), I’m confi- dent that we can share that knowledge to provide the necessary solutions.
MI: What are the other development aids by Israel Government to Myan- mar?
The State of Israel has been active and con- tributing to the development of Myanmar society for many years. For more than sixty years, we have been providing a variety of courses, seminars through Mashav – Israel international agency for cooperation and development, in fields such as Agro tech- nology, Agriculture, Education, Health and many more. During that period, hundreds of Myanmar citizens, from public and private sectors, including NGO’S, have enjoyed pro- fessional training and I allow myself to add, that today, many of those alumni form part of the emerging civil society in Myanmar.
MI: Are you satisfied with the current reform process? Which areas have ex- ceeded your expectations and which have not ?
Regarding the reform process that is taking place in Myanmar, I see it as a very positive sign which combined with the peace pro- cess and national reconciliation, will allow the country to follow a new track, towards a promising future. It is impossible to predict how long this process will take, but it is es- sential to move forward and achieve togeth- er, a win-win solution that will benefit all. Last but not least, as a foreign representative in this country, I believe that it is not for me, but for the Myanmar people to decide if they are “satisfied” or not , and comment on the subject.
But please don’t get me wrong. My experi- ence taught me that it is more difficult to lead reforms and easier to criticize those that lead it. A year from now, Myanmar will be holding its general elections, and I am intended to believe that the results of those elections, will provide a good indicator, to the mentioned question.
MI: How do you feel that foreign com- panies now entering into business here will affect the local workforce, and do you feel that they will bring new opportunities to new businesses?
I expect a great change, since today, to be able to compete in the international arena, every country must make the necessary ad- justments, and Myanmar is not different in that context from any other country. The proper way meet this challenge, is viewing its positive side, and understanding the ben- efit that the people and the country will gain, from investing in capacity building and vo- cational training.
MI: What is the area of concern from Israel investors who have or are about to invest into Myanmar?
In general I think that the Israeli investors are not different from any others all over the world. They are looking for stability and the opportunities provided by a new emerging market. On the other end I believe that the flexibility and innovation of the Israeli busi- ness sector gives us an advantage, since we are capable to being more flexible, and adapt the required “tailor made solution” that will meet the needs and requirements of our cli- ents. There are still obstacles on the way, but we find encouraging steps, such as the current changes in the investment law and other laws that are in process.
MI: How do you see Myanmar com- paring with its Asian neighbors in the short and long term future?
The current starting point put Myanmar in a very good position. Furthermore, the eco- nomic indicators forecast a great potential, but to implement them, there is still a long way to go. I am optimistic and believe that in the long run, the vast majority Myanmar citizens will benefit from development and the changes that will take par t in the country.
MI: What would be your advice to Is- rael and Myanmar companies which want to cooperate in business sector?
First, that it is very important to learn and get to know the Myanmar market, and the Myanmar way of doing business. Second, they must remember that the process takes more time and finally, that it is crucial to find the right partner, that is familiar with the local market, its needs and even more important, he knows how to handle the in- evitable bureaucracy.
MI: Please give a message for the peo- ple of Myanmar.
As my tenure as the 21 Israeli Ambassador to your “Golden Land” draws to a close, I feel pleased with what I have accomplished during my two – years term, and today, while concluding this unforgettable experi- ence, I’m confident of the special friendship and unique appreciation, prevailing among the leaders and the people of our two na- tions. Furthermore, I am totally convinced that the time is ripe for the expansion of our bilateral cooperation into many new areas.
Taking the opportunity, that on this period of the year we celebratie “Rosh Hashana” – the Jewish New Year (5775), I express my sincere gratitude for your hospitality, and wish you all a Happy and prosperous New Year – Shana Tova.[/paypal]