Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Image Credit: AP

In addition to his success in penetrating Africa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his activity in Latin America even before the rather strong, right-wing election victories in the continent. Perhaps Netanyahu’s greatest success was with the ultra-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose inauguration he attended — the first Brazil visit by an Israeli premier. The Israeli government confirmed that the visit to Latin America’s largest country boosted trade and economic relations between the two countries, amounting to $1.2 billion (Dh4.41 billion).

Netanyahu, last year, made his first tour of Latin America, including Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, in which he sought to expand Israel’s diplomatic and political ties through technological and defence exports and to persuade them to vote for Israel at the United Nations, especially when the Zionist state faces criticism over its position against the Palestinians.

As usual, Israel invested the weapon of economy to win over Latin American countries and to improve the economic conditions of the Zionist state. Netanyahu’s ‘economic’ moves began in 2013 when he declared that “the Pacific Alliance of Latin America is the next economic goal that will enable the Israeli economy to continue to grow”. Modi Ephraim, head of Latin America division at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, boasted: “Today there are about 150 Israeli companies operating in Mexico, more than 100 companies in Colombia and Argentina. And in Brazil, there are about 200 Israeli companies that produce advanced technology equipment, 42 Israeli companies producing security systems and equipment, and 17 companies producing medical devices and equipment.”

Moreover, reports of the military export division of the Israeli “Ministry of Defence” recently revealed that “Latin American countries received large amounts of Israeli arms which helped to strengthen their relations with Israel and later reflected on their support to it in international forums, as seen in recent decisions by a number of Latin American countries to transfer their embassies to [occupied] Jerusalem”, namely, Honduras, Guatemala and Paraguay which later backed off.

Spanish newspaper El Pais published a revealing report on the ties that Israel seeks to promote with Latin American countries, and cited Brazil as an example. “The relations between Brazil and Israel are not the result of a rational policy of a state with the authority or motivation for international cooperation, but rather the fruits of shared ideologies, norms and values,” the report said. In this regard, it is well-known that evangelical Christians are spread across Latin America, and they feel connected to the ‘Jewish cause’.

Netanyahu’s moves were not only meant to restore diplomatic ties with Latin American countries, but he also went further to prevent the collapse of strong relations with other countries supporting the Zionist state, especially in the light of Paraguay reversing its decision to move its embassy to occupied Jersualem. Israel considered that volte face as a serious blow, weeks after Columbia recognised the state of Palestine — both Paraguay and Columbia are close to Israel. Such a situation indicates that the decisions by some Latin American nations to support Israel in the past years have been linked to appeasement of United States administrations, because they were largely dependent on aid from Washington.

But this has changed with the Trump policy of “America first” and abandonment of many of the traditional US allies. Indeed, Latin America expert and professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Arie Kacowicz, observed: “The leaders of the Latin American continent are looking to win over the United States for support, and although some of them are looking to strengthen ties with Israel, it is not their main focus. Their relations with the United States is their goal and intent.”

During the wars on Gaza Strip, most Latin American states went beyond statements condemning Israel, recalling some of their ambassadors from Tel Aviv, while demonstrations and marches took to the streets in most Latin American countries in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian cause. This is why Arab and Muslim states ought to be totally aware that Israel’s success in Latin America means losing a big global voice supporting the Palestinian cause.

So, should we call upon the Arab League, and indeed every Arab and Muslim country, to take the necessary political/diplomatic initiative to confront Israeli activity in Latin America (and in Africa as well as other Asian countries) or will we be flogging a dead horse?

Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.