Israel hopes to renew ties with Havana following US-Cuba thaw

No sitting Israeli prime minister has ever visited South America.

A Cuban flag hangs from a building in Havana (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Cuban flag hangs from a building in Havana
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel looks favorably on the recent US-Cuba reconciliation and hopes that in the future it, too, will re-establish ties with the Caribbean country, Modi Ephraim, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Latin America and Caribbean division, said on Tuesday.
At the same time, however, he said there is currently no discussion underway with the Cubans to re-establish ties.
Jerusalem is carefully watching the development of the ties with the US, and its goal – “when it is possible” – also is to improve relations with Cuba, he said.
Cuba is one of the four Latin American countries with which Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia. Jerusalem had diplomatic relations with Cuba until 1973, when Fidel Castro broke them off when he was running for president of the Non Aligned Movement.
Havana has since been a constant and bitter critic of Israel.
Despite the lack formal relations, Ephraim said the people-to-people contacts between the two countries have continued, especially in the health, culture and agricultural fields. In addition, it is a destination for Israeli tourists.
Despite its size and difficult economic situation, Cuba – Ephraim said – has influence on South American countries because of the country’s revolutionary elan, and he pointed out that the rapprochement with the US has improved relations between the US and South America.
Although there is no immediate sign of an improvement in ties with Cuba, Ephraim said the election in December of Argentinean President Mauricio Macri has already significantly improved the atmosphere between the two countries, and a visit by that country’s vice president is expected in the coming months.
While numerous Latin American leaders have visited Israel over the years, no sitting Israeli prime minister has ever visited South America; a planned visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014 never materialized, but Ephraim said a visit to at least Mexico and Colombia – two of Israel’s closest friends in Latin America, is being planned for either 2016 or 2017.
Asked whether the lack of a prime ministerial visit to Latin America matters to the countries there, Ephraim said one of the most important things in diplomacy is reciprocity.
At the same time, he added that, while the prime minister has never visited there, numerous ministers do, pointing out that Diaspora Affairs and Education Minister Naftali Bennett was just in Argentina last month.