Danny Ayalon, Saudi Prince Shake Hands Publicly
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon succeeded in coaxing a symbolic friendly gesture Saturday evening from a senior Saudi Arabian official at the Munich Security Conference, a global gathering of security experts and diplomats. The official, Prince Turki el-Faisal, smilingly shook Ayalon's hand as a hall full of VIPs and other guests looked on and clapped their hands, and as television cameras recorded the event.
The event began on a sour note, when Ayalon protested the decision to split up the panel discussions at the conference in such a way that he and Al-Turki would be sitting on separate panels: Al-Turki would sit with Egyptian diplomat Hossam Zaki and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Ayalon was to share the stage with Russian academic Igor Yurgens and U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Ayalon conjectured from his seat on stage that it seemed as if "a representative of a country with a lot of oil" – an obvious reference to Saudi Arabia – had pressed the organizers to separate the panels because he "did not want to sit with us."
This showed a lack of mutual respect and tolerance, and was symptomatic of the Middle East's problems, Ayalon complained.
In the question- and- answer session after the panel discussion, Al-Turki stood up from his seat in the audience and said it was not he who had objected to the original way of splitting of the panel. Rather, the Saudi royal suggested, this may decision have been the result of Ayalon's "boorish behavior" with Turkey's envoy to Israel some weeks ago – a reference to the infamous diplomatic incident in January for which Ayalon has apologized.
Ayalon responded by saying Al-Turki had called his integrity into question, and added: "If indeed it was not him who objected to my being here together with him, I would welcome him to shake my outstretched hand. If it's too difficult for you to come up here I would come down to you, would you be willing to do that?”
Al Turki smiled and said it would be better if Ayalon came over to where he was. Ayalon descended from the stage and the two shook hands, as the audience clapped.
Al-Faisal, a graduate of Georgetown University, was chief of Saudi intelligence for two decades and is a former Saudi Ambassador to the US. He has been called “one of the sharpest and shrewdest among Saudi elites” by experts.