Israel Joins the Ranks of the Whale Defenders

With Japan on the threshold of seizing control of the International Whaling Commission, Israel has bolstered the ranks of the anti-whaling nations by joining the International Whaling Commission.

The Israeli decision was the result of a direct plea from the United States to help defend the 20-year old moratorium on commercial whaling. The moratorium came into effect in 1986 after centuries of whaling nearly drove several species to extinction.

Japan, along with outlaw whaling nations Norway and Iceland, have been bribing small, poor nations to join the IWC to vote in favor of resuming commercial whaling operations.

Finally, the whale-defending nations are beginning to do the same except that Israel did not need to be bribed. They were simply asked and accepted.

The International Whaling Commission, established in 1949, is an international organization responsible for the management of whaling and the conservation of whales. It currently has 66 signatory nations, split almost evenly between two camps - the pro-whaling nations, led by Japan, and the anti-whaling nations, led by the U.S. and Australia.

Israel will make this 34-33.

Japanese attempts to reintroduce commercial whaling were narrowly defeated at last year's annual meeting, and both sides have been attempting to shore up support ahead of the annual meeting in May, to be held in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Israel has no whaling industry and to date has yet to formulate an official policy on the contentious issue, but it is certain to join the anti-whaling bloc.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev confirmed the American request and said, "Israel is responding to concerns of friends and allies."

Stewart Tuttle, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, said the U.S. ambassador made a personal appeal to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. A formal request also came from the U.S. representative to the whaling commission to the Israeli environment minister, he said.

"The U.S. believes that countries such as Israel can help make a difference in ensuring the long-term conservation of whale species and opposing attempts to weaken or minimize regulations for future whaling operations," Tuttle said.

Petsuya Mori, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv said he would have not comment unless Israel formally joins the coalition.

Valerie Brachya, an Israeli Environment Ministry official, said whaling had previously not been high on Israel's agenda. But Israel is committed to global conservation efforts and will support "anything that we would see in a positive light from an environmental point of view," she said.

"Israel is active in international forums and sees itself as part of the global community for the protection of the environment," Brachya said.

Tuttle said Israel's input would be appreciated in the global body.

"Even in the absence of critical marine issues in Israel, the country can export its principles and sound environmental ethic to the IWC to effect change that will be seen for generations to come," he said.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes Israel and applauds their conservation objectives. Sea Shepherd's Founder and President Captain Paul Watson said, "Israel may be getting some bad press in other areas but today this nation is a friend of the whales and any friend of the whales is a friend to us."