Friday, 26 October 2012
The Latin American anti-Israel nexus
36 member nations of the UN General Assembly do not recognise Israel. Most are what might be termed “the usual suspects” − states with Muslim majorities ranging down the alphabet from Afghanistan to Yemen. A thought-provoking exception to the standard pattern is provided by four countries situated south of the United States − Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
What binds these four rejectionist Latin American states in their anti-Israel stance? One factor is long-standing opposition to the domination of the region by their super-power northern neighbour, the USA; a second is the stirring of this pot by a mischief-making Iran intent on advancing its own global strategy.
Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in August 2005, Iran has been engaged in extending and strengthening its relations with vulnerable Latin American states. Chief among these have been Venezuela and Bolivia, though Nicaragua, Cuba and also Ecuador have been on their shopping list. To gain political, economic, cultural and religious influence in the region, Iran has been using every opportunity to exploit these countries’ desire to combat what they see as “American imperialism”.
Ahmadinejad found a willing disciple in the shape of Hugo Chávez, who had been president of Venezuela since 1999 and whose policies from the start were defiantly anti-American. Iran’s visceral hatred of Israel, the US’s solid ally in the Middle East, was easily implanted in him. Venezuela severed relations with Israel in 2008 in the wake of Israel’s incursion into Gaza to counter Hamas’s continual rocket attacks. Since then Chavez’s anti-Israel pronouncements have become increasingly paranoid. At a rally in June 2010, he announced: “Israel is financing the Venezuelan opposition. There are even groups of Israeli terrorists, of the Mossad, who are after me trying to kill me.”
As for Cuba, its long-lasting stand-off with the United States made it a prime target for Iran’s wider strategy in the region. Anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist attitudes, common in communist regimes, were present in Cuba from the start of their Revolution in 1959. Approximately 94 percent of Cuba’s Jewish population fled after the Revolution, Those that remained found themselves discriminated against, along with other religious groupings, though in a curious and anomalous twist, protection against national, religious and racial hate was also a part of the Cuban criminal code.
Overt anti-Israel sentiment came to the fore in Cuba’s foreign policy just before the 1973 Yom Kippur war. In September 1973 Fidel Castro embraced both Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat at the fourth Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Algiers, and formally broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. Next year Castro invited Arafat to Cuba, and provided advance training for the Palestine Liberation Organisation and other Palestinian military organizations.
Opposing Israel became one outlet through which Fidel Castro could express his hatred of the power concentrated in the United States. Little has changed in that respect since Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, took over the presidency. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, in his whistle-stop tour of Latin America in January 2012 which, as well as Cuba, took in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ecuador, made that clear enough.
As far as Nicaragua is concerned, it was the accession of the Sandanista junta in July 1979 that changed a close and flourishing relationship with Israel − and, indeed, with the United States − to fierce hostility. The Sandanistas took Marx and Engels as the source of their political philosophy. In 1982 the Sandinista government severed diplomatic relations with Israel, but with the ousting of the Sandinista regime in 1990, ties with Israel were restored.
All the same, Iran began reaching out politically to Nicaragua, actively supporting the Sandanista’s efforts to regain power. Finally, in the elections of November 2006, Sandanista Daniel Ortega became President for the second time. Ahmadinejad traveled to Managua to attend his inauguration. In June 2008, Ahmadinejad hosted Ortega in Tehran to discuss ways to increase their countries’ cooperation. It was following the Mavi Marmara incident, on 2 June 2010, that Nicaragua again broke off all relations with Israel.
Where Bolivia is concerned, reasonably harmonious diplomatic relations with Israel ended with the elections of December 2005, the triumph of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), and its leader, Evo Morales, becoming President. Bolivian politician and journalist José Brechner has described Morales as: “the classic barbarian leader similar to those of other times, but with foreign support.”
Brechner records how Morales initiated his friendship with the Muslim world well before he came to power − he was the proud recipient of the Gadaffi Award, and the Libyan dictator’s “Green Book” became his new bible. The old one was soon discarded once he came to power, as he cosied up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs from Iran.
Slavishly imitating Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Morales broke first with the United States in 2008, and then with Israel in June 2010.
In late May 2009, a secret dossier drafted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Iran’s activities in Latin America was leaked to the press. The report claimed that “since Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of ‘bringing America to its knees.’”
Recognising or not recognising Israel is only one move of a pawn in this larger game being played out between a Latin America nexus, backed by its Islamist games-master, and its powerful northern neighbour.
Published in the online Jerusalem Post magazine, 28 October 2012: