Far-right, pro-US Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has reneged on his earlier agreement to participate in Israel’s gala 70th Independence Day celebrations next week it was announced on Monday, April 9, by a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Hernández’s decision came following criticism — led by an opposition Knesset member and Left activists in Israel, which included threats to hold a mass demonstration at the ceremony in which he was to appear because of Honduras’s human rights record — after the Central American president had been invited to light a ceremonial torch at the evening festivities in Jerusalem on Wednesday, April 18.
Far-right Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev had invited Hernandez last week to be one of the 12 persons to light a torch at the central Independence Eve ceremony on Mount Herzl, the first time a foreign leader would be so honored. Regev’s invitation immediately drew fire from Left activist who described the invitation as “scandalous” because it legitimizes a president responsible for grave human rights violations in his country.
Even before Jerusalem received word of Hernandez’s final decision, Regev blasted critics saying that “the extreme Left has joined the BDS movement against Israel in order to extinguish the torch.” Regev claimed that the Left did not understand the ramifications of its criticism on Israel’s foreign relations.
During his last visit to Israel in 2015, Hernández, who arrived with all of his ministers, announced a “strategic change” in his country’s ties to Israel: Honduras will now vote with Israel on important resolutions at the UN and other international bodies. And, indeed, last December, Honduras was one of the only seven countries to vote against the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The affinity between the two states has become increaingly founded on a number of arms deals signed between Israel and Honduras in recent years. Last month, it was reported that the Israel-based Elbit Systems will provide Skylark drones and 490 communication devices of different types to the Honduran army. The deal includes three Skylark systems, each system comprising two aircraft, one for day and one for night time reconnaissance. Elbit will also send its experts to Honduras to train military personnel to use the systems. In October 2017, the “Israel Defense” blog reported that the two countries signed a massive $300 million arms deal, which also includes the establishment of a national computer emergency response team (CERT). According to Jane’s Defence & Security Intelligence & Analysis, the deal also includes the refurbishment of 10 F-5E Tiger IIs planes, two F-5F, and five Cessna A-37B Dragonfly, to be carried out by Elbit System. The refurbished planes are expected to resume operations in 2019. The website elpais.hn added that the deal further includes an OPV patrol boat, likely manufactures by Israel Shipyards.