Iran steps into Israeli void in Mauritania

Iranian FM says Teheran considering revamping an Israeli-built hospital in Mauritania.

mottaki iran FM 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
mottaki iran FM 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran is considering revamping an Israeli-built hospital in Mauritania, the Iranian foreign minister said during a visit to Mauritania on Wednesday. The move comes shortly after Nouakchott severed relations with Israel. During a rare visit to Mauritania, the first at such a high level in 27 years, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited a hospital for cancer research. The hospital was built and funded by Israel and was inaugurated last year. "We'll equip the hospital with whatever gear it needs," the minister was quoted by the Mauritanian news agency Taqadoumy. In addition, Mottaki promised to boost trade with Mauritania and increase cooperation in health, oil, energy, business, agriculture and mines. Israel invested vast amounts of money and know-how into the hospital, Boaz Bismuth, Israel's former ambassador to Mauritanian told The Media Line. "What's happening now will only damage the moderate camp," Bismuth said. Observers believe severing relations with Israel was a way to secure financial aid from countries that oppose normalization with Israel. The Mauritanian media is talking about a new axis that involves Nouakchott, Tripoli and Teheran. Iran and Mauritania are witnessing a thaw in diplomatic relations after ties between Israeli and Mauritania soured following Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the military operation, drawing fierce condemnation from Arab countries, including popular protests in Mauritania. Mauritania decided to suspend diplomatic ties with Israel in January and later recalled its ambassador to the country. In early March Israel was requested by the Mauritanians to close its embassy in Nouakchott and the ambassador was asked to leave. Diplomatic relations were established between Israel and Mauritania in 1999. Mauritania was one of three Arab League members - including Egypt and Jordan - that had full diplomatic relations with Israel. The severance of Israeli-Mauritanian relations deals a blow to Washington's efforts to install democracy and push for normalization between Middle Eastern countries and its ally, Israel. Mauritania could become more reliant on oppressive or extremist countries such as Iran, in effect emboldening anti-US sentiment in Mauritania and undermining democracy building. It could also raise popular pressure on the regimes in Jordan, Egypt and other countries that maintain informal relations with Israel, to take similar steps and sever or downgrade their ties with the Jewish state. Mauritania underwent a coup last August, and has been facing diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, including the US.