The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee`s Subcommittee for Foreign Policy met on Monday to discuss Israel`s relations with Latin American countries. Subcommittee Chairman MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said South America ”is a huge continent with economic and diplomatic influence,” and he maintained that Israel should deal with some South American countries as it deals with ”real superpowers” in order to realize the ”full potential and the diplomatic and economic opportunities [these countries] present.”
”Israel is missing a historic opportunity to build strategic ties with 19 countries and nearly half a billion people,” Oren stated. ”We must act in accordance with the government`s decision, which calls to strengthen the relations with South America and avoid closing Israeli missions in this important continent.”
MK Michael Oren
Foreign Ministry official Boaz Moda`i noted that the past few years have seen a ”cautious trend” in which South American countries have been ”getting closer to the west, including Israel, mainly for economic reasons.” He said a number of high-level delegations from South America, consisting of ministers, parliament members, economic figures and journalists, have visited Israel this past year.
Shmuel Bass, also representing the Foreign Ministry, mentioned that the decision to close Israeli missions in South America (two of the Foreign Ministry`s five missions in South America which will be closed this year) was made by the prime minister and foreign minister.
”We must realize that closing a mission is not merely an economic organizational move, it is a diplomatic statement and a symbol,” Bass told the subcommittee. ”It has been proven throughout the years that closing missions costs the country more money than keeping them active does.”
Another Foreign Ministry official, Yoed Magen, said the process the countries of South America are going through may be beneficial to Israel, despite the substantial influence Iran and the Palestinians wield in these countries. ”The prime minister understands that Israel can and should operate in South America, but this insight has yet to seep deep enough into all the relevant government ministries, and this while Iran is working to advance dozens of economic contracts there,” he said.
Ofer Fohrer, head of the North and Latin America Department at the Ministry of Economy`s Foreign Trade Administration, noted that trade between Israel and South American countries has dropped about five percent over the past year as a result of the sharp decrease in the price of oil and the depreciation of local currencies in South America.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said ”the fact that Israel does not have a full-time foreign minister significantly harms the State of Israel`s public diplomacy efforts in those countries that are under Iran`s influence.” He called for the opening of additional embassies in South America.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) argued that Israel`s foreign policy in relation to the conflict with the Palestinians ”should not be determined by the question of which country supported the establishment of a Palestinian state.”