Israelis can be excused for wondering why Brazil and Argentina unexpectedly
announced they recognize an independent Palestinian state with its capital city
in Israel’s capital city. Israelis can be forgiven for being taken by surprise
by their move and by the prospect that Uruguay, and perhaps Paraguay, Chile,
Peru, Ecuador and El Salvador, will be following in their footsteps because the
Israeli media have failed to report on developing trends in Latin
And this is not surprising. The media fail to report on almost
all the developing trends impacting the world. For instance, when the Turkish
government sent Hamas supporters to challenge the IDF’s maritime blockade of the
Hamas-controlled Gaza coastline, the media were surprised that Israel’s ally
Turkey had suddenly become Hamas’s ally and Israel’s enemy.
to report on Turkey’s gradual transformation into an Islamic supremacist state
caused the media to treat what was a culmination of a trend as a shocking new
The same is now happening with Latin America.
in Turkey, the media failed only to report on the significance of the singular
trend of Islamization of Turkish society, the media have consistently ignored
the importance for Israel of three trends that made Latin America’s embrace of
the Palestinians against Israel eminently predictable.
Those trends are
the rise of Hugo Chavez, the regional influence of the Venezuela-Iran alliance,
and the cravenness of US foreign policy towards Latin America and the Middle
East. When viewed as a whole they explain why Latin American states are lining
up to support the Palestinians.
More importantly, they tell us something
about how Israel should be acting.
OVER THE past decade Venezuelan
dictator Hugo Chavez has inherited Fidel Castro’s mantel as the head of the
Latin American anti-American club. He has used Venezuela’s oil wealth, drug
money and other illicit fortunes to draw neighboring states into his orbit and
away from the US. Chavez’s circle of influence now includes Cuba and Nicaragua,
Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador as well as Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Peru.
Democracies like Colombia and Chile are also taking steps in Chavez’s
Chavez’s choice of Iran is no fluke although it
seemed like one to some when the alliance first arose around 2004. Iran’s
footprint in Latin America has grown gradually. Beginning in the 1980s, Iran
started using Latin America as a forward base of operations against the US and
the West. It deployed Hizbullah and Revolutionary Guards operatives and other
intelligence and terror assets along the largely ungoverned tri-border area
between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. That staging ground in turn enabled Iran
to bomb Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in the early
Iran’s presence on the continent allowed it to take advantage of
Chavez’s consolidation of power. Since taking office in 2005, Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has developed strategic alliances with Venezuela and
With Chavez’s assistance, Teheran is expanding its web of
alliances throughout Latin America at the expense of the US and
On the face of it, Chavez and Ahmadinejad seem like an odd
couple. One is a Marxist and the other is a messianic jihadist. But on closer
inspection it makes perfect sense. They share the same obsessions with hating
the US and loving power.
Chavez has demonstrated his commitment to
maintaining power by crushing his opponents, taking control over the judiciary
and media, amending the constitution and repeatedly stealing
Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks sabotage campaign against the US gave
us a first person account of the magnitude of Ahmadinejad’s electoral
In a cable from the US Embassy in Turkmenistan dated 15 June 2009,
or three days after Ahmadinejad stole the Iranian presidential elections, the
embassy reported a conversation with an Iranian source regarding the true
election results. The Iranian source referred to the poll as a “coup
The regime declared Ahmadinejad the winner with 63% of the vote.
According to the Iranian source, he received less than a tenth of that amount.
As the cable put it, “based on calculations from [opponent Mir Hossain]
Mousavi’s campaign observers who were present at polling stations around the
country and who witnessed the vote counts, Mousavi received approximately 26
million (or 61%) of the 42 million votes cast in Friday’s election, followed by
Mehdi Karroubi (10-12 million)…. Ahmadinejad received ‘a maximum of 4-5 million
votes,’ with the remainder going to Mohsen Rezai.”
There is no
fence-sitting along the Iran-Israel divide. Latin American countries that
embrace Iran always do so to the detriment of their ties with Israel. Bolivia
and Venezuela cut their diplomatic ties with Israel in January 2009 after siding
with Hamas in Operation Cast Lead. In comments reported on the Hudson New York
website, Ricardo Udler, the president of the small Bolivian Jewish community,
said there is a direct correlation between Bolivia’s growing ties with Iran and
its animosity towards Israel. In his words, “Each time an Iranian official
arrives in Bolivia there are negative comments against the State of Israel and
soon after, the Bolivian authorities issue a communiqué against the Jewish
Udler also warned that, as he put it, “there is information from
international agencies that indicate that uranium from Bolivia and Venezuela is
being shipped to Iran.”
That was in October. With Iran it appears that if
you’re in for an inch you’re in for a mile. This month we learned that Venezuela
and Iran are jointly deploying intermediate range ballistic missiles in
Venezuela that will be capable of targeting US cities.
THERE IS no doubt
that the Venezuelan-Iranian alliance and its growing force in Latin America go a
long way towards explaining South America’s sudden urge to recognize
“Palestine.” But there is more to the story.
The final trend that the
media in Israel have failed to notice is the impact of US foreign policy in
South America and the Middle East alike has had on the positions of nations like
Brazil and Argentina towards Israel. During the Bush administration, US Latin
America policy was an incoherent bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, the
US failed to assist Chavez’s opponents overthrow him when they had a chance in
2004. The US similarly failed to support Nicaraguan democrats in their electoral
fight against Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in the 2007 elections. On the
other hand, the US did foster strong alliances with Colombia and
Under the Obama administration, US Latin American policy has
become more straightforward.
The US has turned its back on its allies and
is willing to humiliate itself in pursuit of its adversaries.
2009 US President Barack Obama sat through a 50-minute anti-American rant by
Ortega at the Summit of the Americas. He then sought out Chavez for a photo-op.
In his own address Obama distanced himself from US history, saying, “We have at
times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge
to you that we seek an equal partnership.
There is no senior partner and
junior partner in our relations.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s attempted
appeasement hasn’t done any good. Nicaragua invaded neighboring Costa Rica last
month along the San Juan River. Ortega’s forces are dredging the river as part
of an Iranian-sponsored project to build a canal along the Isthmus of Nicaragua
that will rival the Panama Canal.
Even Obama’s ambassador in Managua
admits that Ortega remains deeply hostile to the US. In a cable from February
illicitly published by WikiLeaks, Ambassador Robert Callahan argued that
Ortega’s charm offensive towards the US was “unlikely to portend a new, friendly
Ortega with whom we can work in the long-term.”
It is not simply the US’s
refusal to defend itself against the likes of Chavez that provokes the likes of
Brazil’s President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and Argentina’s President Cristina
Fernández de Kirchner to embrace Chavez and Iran.
They are also
responding the US’s signals towards Iran and Israel.
Obama’s policy of
engaging and sanctioning Iran has no chance of preventing Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons. And just like the Arabs and the Europeans, the South Americans
know it. There is no doubt that at least part of Lula’s reason for signing onto
a nuclear deal with Ahmadinejad and Turkey’s Reccip Erdogan last spring was his
certainty that the US has no intention of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear
From Lula’s perspective, there is no reason to participate in the
US charade of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He might as well be
on the winning side. And since Obama doesn’t mind Iran winning, Iran will
THE SAME rules apply for Israel. Like the Europeans, the Arabs, the
Asians and everyone else, the Latin Americans have clearly noted that Obama’s
only consistent foreign policy goal is his aim of forcing Israel to accept a
hostile Palestinian state and surrender all the land it took control over in
1967 to the likes of PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
They see that Obama has refused to rule out the possibility of recognizing a
Palestinian state even if that state is declared without a peace treaty with
Israel. That is, Obama is unwilling to commit himself to not recognizing a
Palestinian state that will be in a de facto state of war with
The impression that Obama is completely committed to the
Palestinian cause was reinforced this week rather than weakened with the
cancellation of the Netanyahu-Clinton deal regarding the banning of Jewish
construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. The deal was to see Israel banning
Jewish construction for an additional 90 days, in exchange for a US pledge not
to ask for any further bans; to support Israel at the UN Security Council for a
limited time against a Palestinian push to declare independence without peace;
and to sell Israel an additional 20 F-35 fighter jets sometime in the
It came apart because Obama was unwilling to put Clinton’s
commitments – meager as they are – in writing. That is, the deal fell through
because Obama wouldn’t make even a minimal pledge to maintain the US’s alliance
This policy signals to the likes of Brazil and Argentina and
Uruguay that they might as well go with Chavez and Iran and turn their backs on
Israel. No one will thank them if they lag behind the US in their pro-Iran,
anti-Israel policies. And by moving ahead of the US, they get the credit due to
those who stick their fingers in Washington’s eye.
When we understand the
trends that led to Latin America’s hostile act against Israel, we realize two
things. First, while Israel might have come up with a way to delay the action,
it probably couldn’t have prevented it. And second, given the US policy
trajectory, it is again obvious that the only one Israel can rely on to defend
its interests – against Iran and the Palestinians alike – is