Israel – Colombia: what is the origin of the “special relationship” between both countries (and how Petro transformed it))

Israel – Colombia: what is the origin of the “special relationship” between both countries (and how Petro transformed it))
Israel – Colombia: what is the origin of the “special relationship” between both countries (and how Petro transformed it))

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Petro has described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocidal.”
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It was a “special relationship”, two of the vertices of a strategic triangle with the United States that seems to have lost its shape this Wednesday, May 1.

The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, announced that he will break diplomatic relations with Israel after months of an accelerated deterioration of ties between both countries.

Since Israel responded militarily in Gaza to the incursion of the militant group Hamas into its territory on October 7, Petro has frequently denounced what he considers “an Israeli genocide” against the Palestinians of the Strip.

Meanwhile, in Israel some of Petro’s words caused outrage. Lior Haiat, spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused the president of issuing “hostile and anti-Semitic” statements a few days after the conflict escalated.

Mauricio Jaramillo, an expert in international relations at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, considers that Petro’s announcement this Wednesday is “surprising due to the moment in which it occurs, in the middle of the May 1 parade,” but that it is “consistent and expected” due to the president’s position in recent months.

Petro’s government is the first leftist government in the history of Colombia.

His decision now breaks with decades of strengthening relations between his country and Israel, in which Colombia was considered the main ally of the Israelis in Latin America.

But how had this special relationship arisen? And what can change now for Colombia?

From normal to special relationship

Iván Duque during a visit to Israel in 2001.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Former President Duque signed a Free Trade Agreement with Israel in 2020.

Colombia was one of the countries that abstained in the 1947 vote at the UN that sought to resolve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and finally gave rise to the creation of the State of Israel.

In 1960, both countries established embassies in their respective territories and established commercial relations, but that did not prevent Colombia from protesting in UN forums and votes against the Israeli attacks and occupations in Palestinian territories and from advocating for the neutrality of Latin America in that conflict.

During the Cold War, Colombia became a crucial ally for the United States in Latin America.

“The conjunction of interests between these two countries and Israel led to the creation of a strategic triangle between the three,” Marcos Peckel, professor of diplomacy and international relations and representative of the Jewish community in Colombia, told BBC Mundo in an interview.

After the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 and the arrival to power of Álvaro Uribe in 2002, Colombia joined what the United States called “the global war against terrorism”.

The former presidents of Colombia and the United States, Álvaro Uribe and George W. Bush, at a meeting in 2006.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, The relationship between Colombia and Israel advanced when the South American country supported the United States’ global war on terrorism.

From that moment, Colombia declared the guerrillas in its territory “terrorist organizations” and went from seeing its own war as an armed conflict to a “terrorist threat.”

And it was then that the Israeli military, which for decades faced movements it considers terrorists such as Hamas and Hezbollah, fully came in to support the Colombian Armed Forces.

Between 2002 and 2006, according to official figures, imports of military material from Israel to Colombia doubled.

“Israel is one of Colombia’s main weapons suppliers. The Galil rifle and KFIR aircraft are fundamental weapons of the Colombian army,” says Jaramillo.

KFIR airliner in Colombian sky.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Israeli KFIR aircraft are frequently seen in Colombian skies during independence day parades.

Colombia had maintained a historical balance with Israelis and Arabsalthough my impression is that with the governments of Álvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos and Iván Duque, the country came a little closer to Israel,” says the expert.

However, the Santos government recognized Palestine as a State in 2018.

Two years later, in 2020, Colombia and Israel signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), already under Duque’s government.

Although the agreement was sold as “last generation”, Jaramillo explains that the commercial exchange between the two countries is not as robust, that this treaty was more symbolic than real and that the most important cooperation continued to be military.

Experts consulted by BBC Mundo also highlighted the cultural and professional exchange between both countries.

Over the past 24 years, for example, Thousands of Colombians have been part of the Mashavan education program of the Israeli Foreign Ministry to train foreigners in fields such as medicine, agriculture and technology.

That is why it is so common to see Colombians and Israelis spending months or years on exchange in the other country in search of enriching their training.

How did the relationship deteriorate and what effects will it have?

For months, Petro’s strong rhetoric about Israel’s military actions in Gaza and his threats to sever relations foreshadowed this outcome.

The Hamas incursion into Israel on October 7 resulted in more than 1,200 deaths and the taking of 240 hostages. Israel’s offensives have already claimed more than 34,000 lives in Gaza.

After Petro compared Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s language to that used by “the Nazis with the Jews,” Israel announced in mid-October that it would “suspend security exports” to Colombia

Meanwhile, in February of this year, Petro suspended the purchase of weapons from Israel after dozens of people were killed while searching for food in Gaza during an Israeli offensive.

The president described these acts as “genocide”, said they were reminiscent of the “holocaust” and added that the world should “block” Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Despite Petro’s past threats to break relations with Israel, Jaramillo recognizes the possibility that this Wednesday’s announcement will surprise the international community.

Gustavo Petro during the speech this May 1.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, The timing of Petro’s announcement may be surprising, but his rhetoric against Israel and its threats foreshadowed this outcome.

“On other occasions, Petro has issued promises or warnings that take time to be fulfilled. Now, The cost of not carrying out the breakup would be a huge blow to your credibility.“says the expert.

There will be questions about the effects of this breakup, but at the moment few answers.

There are two precedents, however, that may give clues.

“When diplomatic relations were broken with Ecuador during the time of Rafael Correa, the commercial part was not touched on. With Venezuela there was a total break,” says Jaramillo.

What happens now will depend on Petro.

“Will he expel the ambassador? Will he suspend all military cooperation agreements? Will he try to keep all this symbolic so as not to further aggravate the situation?” asks the expert.

These are questions that will be answered as the days go by, although Based on the rhetoric between both countries, it is difficult to predict a friendly outcome.

Hours after the Colombian president’s announcement, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote in X that “history will remember that Gustavo Petro decided to side with the most despicable monsters known to humanity who burned babies, murdered children, raped women and kidnapped innocent civilians.”

“Relations between Israel and Colombia have always been warm, and no hate-filled, anti-Semitic president will be able to change that,” he added.

Gray line.

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