Israel’s quandary in the face of U.S.-Cuba harmony

Israel, a nation that has repeatedly sided with the United States against Cuba whenever the United Nations asks for a lifting of the trade embargo imposed by Washington, will likely reverse course next October when the issue comes up again at the General Assembly, an Israeli newspaper predicts.

In an article Tuesday (Aug. 25) in The Times of Israel, the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, Raphael Ahren, reveals that “Israel was caught totally off-guard by the American about-face” on Dec. 14, 2014, when presidents Obama and Castro announced a resumption of diplomatic relations.

“Despite Jerusalem’s irritation over the way the U.S. administration handled its new Cuba policy, Israel will likely follow America’s lead this October, when the U.N. General Assembly will vote, presumably for the last time, on the need to end the embargo on Cuba,” Ahren wrote.

“I think we need to change our voting patterns, because there was a strategic change here,” a senior Israeli official reportedly told the reporter. An abstention by the U.S. and Israel would permit the anti-embargo resolution to pass at the U.N.

u.n. vote cuba 2013
U.N. General Assembly voting in 2013 on ending the blockade. The vote was 188-2 in favor.

Israel was one of the first nations to recognize Cuba’s revolutionary government in 1959, but the two nations have not had ambassadorial relations since 1973, when Fidel Castro severed them at the Conference of Non-aligned Nations in Algeria. At present, Israel communicates with Cuba through the Canadian Embassy in Havana.

The Times article recalls that in 2014, as in the year before, 188 countries voted in favor of the resolution on “The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Only the U.S. and Israel opposed.

Then Obama and Castro reached the agreement that left Israel out “in the cold,” in The Times’ opinion. A more picturesque Cuban description is that of a painter whose ladder has toppled and has left him “hanging from the brush” — “colgado de la brocha.”

“Nobody in the administration updated Israel ahead of the drastic change in policy, leaving some Israeli diplomats feeling abandoned,” The Times article continues. “Given the sensitivity of the matter, Israeli officials refuse to comment on the record, but in private conversations they don’t hide their frustration at the awkward position Washington has left them in.”

“Jerusalem considers Havana a key player in shaping public opinion in the Latin American left and therefore would like to reestablish diplomatic ties,” Ahren writes. “Currently, Canada represents Israel’s interests in Havana, including assisting the country’s Jewish community.”

However, a scenario where Israel and Cuba resume relations “is unrealistic for the foreseeable future,” Ahren notes. “That’s because the current government under Raúl Castro is not in the least interested in repairing ties with Israel, due to Cuba’s strong ties with the Arab world, Iran and other Latin American countries critical of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.”

[For a view of this issue from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, click here. For a view from Canada, click here.]

Still, “we are following closely the development of U.S.-Cuba relations,” a diplomatic official told The Times, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have no conflict with Cuba; the disconnect between our countries is unnatural.”

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