Despite his unbridled hostility to Israel and close friendship with Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tuesday’s death of Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez did not lead to expectations in Jerusalem on Wednesday of an immediate
improvement in ties with Caracas.
“It is much too early to tell how this
will affect us,” one diplomatic official said.
“Someone may take his
place who will lead the country into the same direction. We simply do not
Chavez, whose defiantly anti-American positions placed him
squarely in the pro-Iranian camp, expelled Israel’s ambassador and severed ties
with Israel following the IDF’s December 2008-January 2009 Operation Cast Lead
There is no expectation that diplomatic ties will be
reestablished immediately now that Chavez has died.
Israel made no formal
comment on his death.
Arie Kacowicz, a Hebrew University professor of
Latin American studies, said Chavez’s anti-Israel positions stemmed from his
strident anti-Americanism. Most of the hostility toward Israel had to do with
his hostility toward the US, and seeing – as the Iranians do – the US as the
“big Satan,” and Israel as the little one, he said.
said, the anti-Israeli sentiment was exacerbated by his country’s strained
relationship with neighboring Colombia, and the fact that Israel and Colombia
enjoy close ties and security cooperation.
One diplomatic official
described the trajectory of Chavez’s anti-Israel feelings as follows: First
there was his campaign against the US and its control of resources in Venezuela;
then his moving toward Fidel Castro in Cuba and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua;
and then looking for patronage from anyone who was anti-American. Since he rose
to power after the fall of the Soviet Union and Moscow was not an option as a
patron, he instead fell into the arms of Ahmadinejad.
anti-Israeli sentiment created an atmosphere during his 14-year reign of power
that gave birth to the harassment of the country’s Jews, including a 2004 police
raid on a Caracas Jewish school and an attack on a Caracas synagogue, Chavez’s
demands that the country’s Jews – now estimated to number fewer than 10,000 –
slam Israel for Operation Cast Lead, and recent reports the country’s
intelligence agency was spying on the Jewish community.
Chavez was the
main architect of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which
includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua – all of which have
followed his anti-US, and by extension, anti-Israel policies.
Venezuelan ruler also bought friends in the region by transferring millions of
his petro-dollars – much of which came from the US – to support projects in
other Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Bolivia, thereby impacting
on their foreign policy as well.
Argentina’s recent move to set up a
“truth commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing that killed 85
people and wounded more than 300 – seen here as a thinly veiled effort to
whitewash Iranian involvement in the attack on the Jewish community center in
Buenos Aires – was widely attributed in Jerusalem to Chavez’s influence on
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.