Having neglected classical international diplomacy in the past few years, the Foreign Ministry is once again giving high priority to strengthening and consolidating Israel''s ties with its friends around the world.It is a simple basic assumption that friendship needs to be nurtured, and that is why Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America were placed higher on the list of our priorities. These areas are home to well over two billion people living in over 100 UN member countries. A simple calculation reveals that these areas possess over one half of the votes in the UN General Assembly, with all that entails. Most of the nations in Africa and Latin America are affiliated with the Non-Aligned bloc (a group of developing countries, which allegedly took a neutral stand toward the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War). This bloc constitutes a challenge to Israeli diplomacy, in that it almost automatically votes against Israel in international forums. This pattern of voting is not a given, but rather the consequence of showing neglect and consistent political disregard towards these countries. Furthermore, countries that are hostile to Israel, such as Iran and its surrogates, are heavily oriented towards these countries. Thus, if Israel won''t be there, Iran will. Beginning in mid-2005, following the election of Ahmadinejad as president, Iran began their attempt to establish a stronger presence in Latin America. Iran opened more representative offices in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay. In addition, Iran is also looking toward the Caribbean Islands. Especially worrying is Iran’s consolidation of relations with Venezuela, headed by Hugo Chavez, and the breaking of relations with Israel during Israel’s last government, a policy which Bolivia later copied. To this equation one must add Cuba, which already broke its relations with Israel in 1973. Iran uses Venezuela as its headquarters, from which it spreads its influence across the continent. As a result of Its political and economic isolation, Iran flocked into Latin America in an attempt to override the Security Council''s sanctions (Resolution 1929). Thus, for example, Venezuela helps Iran override the sanctions through cooperation in the fields of banking, shipping and energy. In the African continent, Iran is actively in search of Uranium. It is also attempting to take control of the continent through its constant flow of cash and merchandise. Israel expresses its concerns that the Iranian penetration is dangerous to these continents. Iran is a subversive and destabilizing element, especially considering the terrorist attacks it already perpetrated in Latin America during the 1990s. In order to strengthen Israel''s international ties with these countries, as well as to thwart the Iranian penetration, the Foreign Ministry, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Liberman, has initiated a series of political visits to Africa and Latin America. In fact, when Liberman visited Brazil last year, he became the first Israeli official of his rank to visit the important Latin American nation in many years.The Foreign Minister also met with leaders of Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya in Africa, and with leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Colombia in Latin America. For the very first time Israel was represented at a ministerial level in the annual conference of the Organization of American States (OAS), when I went last year to Honduras, and further political visits are scheduled for the beginning of next year. In addition to strengthening diplomatic ties, economic relations have also been solidified: trade volume has grown, and many agreements for economic cooperation were signed in the fields of taxation, investments protection, Free Trade Zones and the exchange of economic delegations. Another tool used for strengthening ties is the activitiy of Israeli assistance in these continents through MASHAV, Israel''s Center for International Cooperation, which has been significantly enhanced. In turn, these countries have not remained idle and have made high-ranking return visits, including visits by the presidents of Uruguay, Brazil, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and other countries, as well as visits by the vice-presidents of Honduras and Paraguay. While the recent recognition of a Palestinian state by several Latin American nations is unfortunate, it is largely a result of the inactivity in these arenas by former administrations who tended to focus an inordinate amount of attention on the peace process with the Palestinians. It will take time to resurrect a closer relationships with these nations.However, we can already see some results of our policy and our investment in these continents is bearing fruit and bilateral ties are expanding. Today, more than ever before, these countries are voting against Iran. Furthermore, one can even see a drastic decrease in the number of countries voting against Israel in multilateral forums.
Danny Ayalon is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Membr of Knesset for Yisrael Beiteinu. His personal website can be found at www.DannyAyalon.co.il (with an English site soon to be launched at www.DannyAyalon.com)