Colombian defense minister arrives for state visit

Will meet Defense Ministry officials and tour several defense industry sites during three-day visit.

juan santos 88 (photo credit: )
juan santos 88
(photo credit: )
Amid growing military ties between Jerusalem and Bogota, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos will arrive in Israel on Sunday on his first state visit. Santos will be the guest of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and will meet with Defense Ministry director-general Pinchas Buhris and tour several defense industry sites during his three-day visit. Defense officials said ties with Colombia were of "strategic importance" and that Israel was one of the South American country's leading suppliers of military training and weapons used to combat rebel groups. Last week, Santos told a Colombian paper that the country's largest rebel group FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was suffering from the recent killings of high-profile members. The BBC reported that the number of rebel fighters has dropped from 16,000 in 2001 to around 8,000. Last month, security forces succeeded in catching a top commander of ELN (the National Liberation Army), the second-largest rebel group in Colombia. Defense officials confirmed that former IDF commandos and senior officers were working in Colombia training soldiers and providing advanced military platforms. Until recently, Israel Aerospace Industries maintained an office in Bogota and over the years supplied the military there with advanced radar systems as well as old-model aircraft. FARC recently announced that Israeli commandos were fighting against drug lords and guerrillas in Colombian jungles alongside American and British forces. Santos, according to the Colombian Semena newspaper, denied the reports but confirmed that a group of Israeli military advisers led by former IDF OC Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv has been working with local defense officials since last year. Another issue that is likely to come up in talks with Santos is a Colombian extradition request against Lt.-Col. (res.) Yair Klein, who is currently in prison in Russia per Bogota's request. Convicted in Colombia of training paramilitary groups and drug militias, he was arrested by Interpol in August following an extradition request by Colombia. According to recent news reports, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has tried to gain Klein's release from Russia.