Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed on Sunday for a 9-day trip to South America, Mexico and the United States. The prime minister will hold meetings with the leaders of Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Mexico before continuing on to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 19. Netanyahu is scheduled to return to Israel ahead of Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year), which begins on the night of September 20.
Ahead of the trip, Netanyahu noted that he will become the first sitting prime minister to visit Latin America. He will be joined by about 30 Israeli business leaders in an effort to build bilateral trade and economic ties in a variety of areas, including water technology, agriculture, technology development and more.
“We are doing here essentially what we are doing in Asia, Africa, Australia, eastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and the rest of the world,“ Netanyahu told the cabinet. ”This visit will strengthen economic, defense and technology ties between Israel and Latin America, and will serve as an additional prop to support Israel‘s standing on the international stage – a process that we have been overseeing systematically and successfully.“
Netanyahu arrived in Buenos Aires on Monday and had talks with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri as well as with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, who traveled to Buenos Aires for the meeting. Netanyahu attended ceremonies at Embassy Square, site of the 1992 terrorist bombing at the Israeli embassy that killed 29 people, as well as the Jewish community building (AMIA),the site of a 1994 terrorist attack that killed 85. Argentina is the country that harbors Latin America’s largest Jewish community of approximately 230,000. According to a Ha’Aretz report, during this meeting Netanyahu will press for answers on the two unsolved terror attacks.
On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a Renault Trafic van bomb loaded with about 275 kilograms (606 lb) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil explosive mixture into the Jewish Community Center building located in a densely constructed commercial area of Buenos Aires, according to a detailed report on Wikipedia. The explosive is thought to have been arranged to focus the blast on the building 3 to 5 metres (9.8 to 16.4 ft) away, exhibiting a shaped charge or explosively formed penetrator effect. The exterior walls of this five story building were of brick masonry construction, which supported the floor slabs. The air blast from the bomb totally destroyed the exposed load-bearing walls which, in turn, led to progressive failure of the floor slabs and virtually total collapse of the building. Such bearing-wall buildings are notable for their tendency to be brought down in this manner by localized damage.
In the days following the bombing, Israel sent Mossad agents to Argentina to investigate. The Israeli Police also sent a team of four forensic scientists to assist with the building of ante mortem files and victim identification; the IDF sent personnel to help the Argentines with body extrication. Argentina closed its borders after the attack, fearing more terrorists could enter. It was thought possible that the bombers entered Argentina through the Triple Frontier, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Argentina’s intelligence agency, the Secretaría de Inteligencia (SIDE), is said to have set up a network of surveillance called “Centauro” in Paraguay.
Over the years, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building case has been marked by incompetence and accusations of cover-ups. All suspects in the “local connection” (among them, many members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police) were found to be “not guilty” in September 2004. In August 2005, federal judge Juan José Galeano, in charge of the case, was impeached and removed from his post on a charge of “serious” irregularities due to mishandling of the investigation. In 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis, was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary.
On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman (who was later found murdered) and Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused the government of Iran of directing the bombing, and the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out. According to the prosecution’s claims in 2006, Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires’ decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran. This has been disputed because the contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 until 1994, when the bombing occurred.
The thirteenth anniversary of the bombing was commemorated on 18 July 2007. In addition to nationwide exhibitions and ceremonies, radio and television stations and police cars all across Argentina sounded sirens at 9:53 am, the time of the bombing.
Netanyahu’s visit to Argentina signals a significant change in relations between the two countries that has been underway since President Macri replaced Cristina de Kirchner, who maintained a cold policy toward Israel while tightening relations with Iran. Netanyahu and Macri are also expected to sign a series of cooperative agreements in the realms of domestic security, customs, social insurance and Holocaust archives, according to a Ha’Aretz report.
In Bogota, Colombia Netanyahu will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for a short stop-over to sign a memorandum of understanding in science and a tourism cooperation agreement before continuing on to Mexico.
The trip takes place under the shadow of mounting legal and political troubles for Netanyahu at home. Friday, Sara Netanyahu was notified she would be indicted for misusing hundreds of thousands of shekels in public funds, and over the weekend their son Yair created a firestorm by posting a cartoon denigrating left-wing Jewish philanthropist George Soros.
It also occurs in the aftermath of a rift between the prime minister and both the Mexican government and local Jewish community last January after Netanyahu Tweeted his support for President Donald Trump‘s proposed border wall between Mexico and the United States.
”President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,“ Netanyahu said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded to the Tweet by noting Mexico’s support for Israel on the international stage and calling on Jerusalem to apologize and “correct” its position.
In addition, Rabbi Marcelo Rittner of Comunidad Bet El in Mexico City wrote in Spanish that “As Mexicans, as Jews, we oppose the construction of a wall, but we support cooperation between the two countries [Mexico and the US].“
But Netanyahu refused to apologize, downplaying the tension as a minor spat between allies. President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin said Israel was “sorry for any hurt” caused by the Tweet, but experts say the issue is far from forgotten.
“The foreign ministry tried to whitewash the whole story at the time, but I can tell you that the Mexicans have not forgotten and not forgiven Netanyahu,” said Prof. Arie Kacowic, a native of Buenos Aires and a Latin America expert at the department of International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Add into the fact that Bibi (Netanyahu) has aligned himself and allowed himself to become closely identified with President Donald Trump. That doesn’t play well in the international community, and especially not in Latin America.”
By: Andrew Friedman
(Wikipedia, Ha’Aretz & TPS)