Israel and Argentina: An Opportunity for Rapprochement

Last Sunday Argentina took a historical step forward. After 12 years of two left-wing populist governments of the Kirchner couple (Nestor and Cristina, respectively) the people from the South American Republic went to the polls to elect a centrist former mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri. The election of Mr. Macri while tighter than his party anticipated (merely three points) signaled that a majority of Argentina was tired of a government who contributed to the stagnation of the economy –and lied about it through statistics. The incoming administration will have the daunting task of fixing the bureaucratic government, jumpstart the economy, develop a national unity platform in a bitterly divided society and reshape Argentina’s Foreign Policy. This latter issue has very interesting implications for Israel and it will certainly present an opportunity to engage and rebuild trust.

There are two main issues to look out for.  First, the President-elect will break away from the alliance his predecessors forged with the ALBA Bloc -which is a talking shop for the regional left led by Venezuela. In fact, Mr. Macri has vouched to call for the suspension of Venezuela from MERCOSUR until it frees all political prisoners and respects democratic values. This is relevant because the ALBA Bloc has led the anti-Israeli movement in South America and most of its members –Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia– currently do not have diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. In addition, the aforementioned countries have been quite adamant in forging relationships with Iran and thereby adopting part of its anti-Israel policy and rhetoric. Of course, a new government does not mean that Argentina and Israel will agree on every issue however, there are issues that Israel and, for example, Colombia do not agree on vis-á-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but they are willing to develop cooperation nonetheless. A centrist administration can present an opportunity for Israel to reengage with one of the key players on the region.

The Second issue revolves around the bombings of the Asociación Mutual Israeli-Argentina (AMIA in Spanish) which is one of the most prominent Jewish Institutions in the country. The bombing left 85 people dead and over 300 wounded. This was one of the biggest terrorist attacks which took place in Argentina and left both the Jewish Community and the country as whole traumatized. The investigation has led to the fact that many Iranian nationals –including a former Defense Minister- have been responsible which led INTERPOL to issue arrest warrants against a number of individuals. Iran, of course, has blocked the prosecutor’s investigation and, at the same time, approached the Kirchner governments to find a compromise which would shield Iranian officials.

The government of Ms. Fernández de Kirchner agreed to the deal which effectively stonewalled the efforts of the prosecution and kill any real attempt to achieve justice. To make matters even worse, earlier this year Dr. Alberto Nismann who served as the chief prosecutor was murdered in his home just a few days before he was set to release a report which directly linked the Argentine President and Foreign Minister in a cover up which lead to the agreement. The case remains under investigation however, it remains clear that, once again, there won’t be justice.

Mr. Macri has vouched to denounce the deal, empower the prosecution and continue the path towards finding the truth. However, in order for the deal to be legally void, Congress will need to intervene which is problematic because Mr. Macri will govern without a majority in either chamber of the legislative. Therefore, it would be naïve to think that any of the masterminds will ever set-foot in a Court room. However, the fact that the incoming President is not willing to go along with the cover up signals that Israel will find a balanced government with which negotiating will be fairer.  

Israel, or the Middle East for that matter, will certainly not be on top of the agenda of the President or the Foreign Minister however; engaging with Argentina should be on top of the agenda of their Israel counterparts. Not only because Argentina is home to one of the biggest Jewish Communities of the world but because forging a lasting partnership with the government in Buenos Aires can help Israel to counterbalance the assertive Iranian Foreign Policy in the region.