Colombian president arrives in Israel for visit

Santos to meet with PM, president; Colombia is Israel’s main South American ally; countries enjoy robust security relationship.

June 4, 2013 01:24
3 minute read.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/John Vizcaino)

Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, Israel’s closest ally in South America, was set to arrive next week for a three-day visit that will focus both on regional and bilateral issues.

Santos will meet President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials.

Colombia was the only South American country that did not follow Brazil’s lead in 2010 and 2011 and recognize the Palestinian Authority as a Palestinian state. The country was also a temporary member of the Security Council in 2011 and was one of seven countries that made clear it would not support Palestinian statehood, thereby quashing Palestinian hopes that year of forcing a US veto on PA statehood in the Security Council.

Last year Colombia, along with Paraguay, were the only South American countries to abstain when the Palestinians won nonmember state status in the UN General Assembly.

Israel and Colombia enjoy a robust security relationship. A 2008 US State Department cable released by Wikileaks said that the two countries maintain “positive relations… particularly in the defense sector through private Israeli defense contractors.”

According to the cable, “key areas of cooperation include strategic military advice, special forces training, and arms sales in support of Colombia’s battle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Economic relations between the two countries outside of defense cooperation remain relatively limited.”

Colombia is also an important US South American ally.

According to the cable, Colombia has “engaged former Israeli military officials to help provide training and advice in the fight against the FARC and other terrorist groups.”

Israeli contractors, the cable continued, support the Colombian government through “arms sales, military training, and the provision of strategic military planning and consulting services.”

The Colombian government, according to the cable, has “engaged Israeli contractors to train Colombian special forces, particularly related to high value targets.”

Israeli contractors also made recommendations to Colombia regarding military purchases, joint military operations and how to restructure Colombia’s intelligence services.

In addition, Israel is a significant source of weaponry for Colombia, and according to the cable uncovered by Wikileaks, some 38 percent of Colombia’s foreign defense purchases went to Israel in 2007.

The 2008 cable reported that Colombia’s Defense Ministry engaged an Israeli company, Global Comprehensive Security Transformation, to help the Colombian government conduct a strategic assessment of the country’s internal conflict.

Global CST is a security company run by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv, former IDF director of operations and a personal acquaintance of Santos.

According to the document, “the assessment is focused primarily on defeating the FARC and other internal terrorist and criminal organizations, but also includes an evaluation of external threats including Venezuela and Ecuador.”

The relationship with Ziv, however, soured, and a 2009 US cable quoted the director of Colombian police as saying that the relationship with Ziv had been “a disaster.”

According to the cable, “Over a three-year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former Defense Minister Santos by promising a cheaper version of USG [US government] assistance without our strings attached. We and the GOC [Government of Colombia] learned that Global CST had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in country needs. Global CST was not transparent with us, and tried to insert itself into our classified discussions with the GOC. Given the GOC’s experience with Global CST, it is no surprise that the Defense Ministry is pulling back from them and warning neighbors that their deals are not as good as advertized.”

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