Israel unsure of Venezuela ties after Chavez's death

Diplomatic officials do not expect immediate improvement of ties with Venezuela despite death of pro-Iranian, anti-Israel leader.

Ahmadinejad and Chavez 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad and Chavez 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 know.”
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 in Gaza.
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.
Furthermore, Kacowicz 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.
Chavez’s 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.
The 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.