ASTANA – Israeli Ambassador to Kazakhstan Eliyahu Tasman told The Astana Times in an exclusive interview that the two countries are in the midst of a flurry of cooperative activity and that their long-standing relations are solidifying even further.
“They were good, they’re good now and they will be even better,” said Tasman of relations between the two countries. High-level political meetings are ongoing, Israeli business owners are increasingly aware of opportunities in Kazakhstan, and the ambassador is determined to introduce Israeli expertise in agriculture, medicine and water to Kazakhstan.
“In the near future, several very important delegations will come to us [in Israel],” said Tasman. Between now and the end of 2013, First Vice Minister of Industry and New Technologies Albert Rau will lead a business delegation for a visit that is expected to result in the signing of a number of technology agreements and a bilateral tax agreement. Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Yerlan Nyssanbayev will lead another delegation, and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kairat Sarybay and First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Rapil Zhoshybayev will also travel to meet with their Israeli counterparts. Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Defence, is also slated to visit Israel sometime in the near future, Tasman added.
“Of course, all these visits will only strengthen the relations between our two countries,” said the ambassador. “This is an indicator of our relations.”
The ambassador has plans to ramp up other areas of connection. Increasing trade is his main goal, he said, as is getting Israeli businesses to come, work and stay.
“I have been working here for one year. In this time, I set for myself a few tasks that I want to do in Kazakhstan that would benefit both of our countries. I focused on several directions—not all, but those in which I think Israel is better than others … These directions are agriculture, medicine and water.”
Israeli companies, Tasman said, have built several greenhouses here, including a three-hectare one, but he thinks more produce could be grown here. He also misses fish. “[In Astana] like in any city, there should be fresh fish … In Israel it is easy: we grow fish in fish tanks. I will set this up! I only have one or two years and it is not my profession, so we will see. It is my personal goal.” The ambassador also reports that he has brought a big Israeli meat and milk producer to work here.
A less personal goal is to foster medical cooperation and improve health care in Kazakhstan. Health care is one of the priority sectors of Kazakhstan’s economy. “In Israel, they understood that nurses needed to be highly qualified, and some 20 years ago we established good schools for nurses. They have a one or two degree higher education. There are departments where nurses do as much work as doctors. This raised the level of treatment in hospitals. I thought I could do it here; to do this basic thing to raise the level of medical treatment. I have already found the biggest company in Israel in this field. The company will come here. I found here a leading professor with his own hospitals and they’re working [together] now to establish such a programme.”
Finally, there is water, a long-time problem for Israel and a growing one for Kazakhstan. “In Israel, we have no water,” Tasman said. “But today we have solved this problem. … We have 100 companies that work in the field of water.” Water will be the next big global problem, Tasman said, and Kazakhstan will not be excepted from this. “There are areas in Astana where there is no water … this should be solved. We can do this,” Tasman said. “As an ambassador, I would like to see Israeli water companies start projects here. I know we are good at it.”
December may see a start to other new joint ventures, as a group of Israeli IT and perhaps pharmaceutical companies will come to meet with their counterparts in a forum in Astana that will serve as a platform for dialogue and cooperation.
The biggest challenge to bringing Israeli businesses to Kazakhstan was a general ignorance about the country, Tasman said. But he has been “throwing big stones into the water,” he said, and now more businessmen are aware of the opportunities in Kazakhstan. “There are a lot of opportunities. And there are many needs and differences here, but Kazakhstan, as opposed to other countries with needs, can pay for things. It is now rich and it will be richer every year. … Many Israelis are approaching Kazakhstan; they want to come.”
Tasman advises Israeli business owners on how to be successful in Kazakhstan. “I tell [Israeli companies] right away that they need to stay here, not just establish something, but stay here as long as it takes for them to teach the locals their skills to perfection … I also tell them that to do business here, they need to invest their own money … Not too much, about 10-15 percent. Then the Kazakhstan side will know that you come here to stay, not to establish and leave, but stay.”
That Kazakhstan is a predominantly Muslim country makes this a significant relationship for Israel. “This country is a bridge between us and the Islamic world,” he said. “Islam [in Kazakhstan] has been always moderate, because Kazakh people have a free will. These peoples were always nomadic, they didn’t have limitations.” President Nursultan Nazarbayev understands that extremist Islam is not right for Kazakhstan, Tasman said. He also credits Nazarbayev with helping create organisations like the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), where Israel can work with Arabic countries.
One longstanding goal may be fulfilled soon: Tasman has often said he wished for direct flights from Kazakhstan to Israel, as current routes are long and complicated. “I started working on this from day one; previous ambassadors worked on it, too. I can tell you now that I have a letter from the Ministry of Transport and Communication of Kazakhstan and the head of the Civil Aviation Department that says Air Astana is checking possibilities for direct flights. People are working on this now.”
“I want to leave something when I go, something more than there was when I came here,” Tasman said. “And I want this country to remain a good partner not only in the military field. … I want to focus on good things.”