On Wednesday, December 24, senior Israeli officials told Haaretz that, at this stage at least, Israel has decided not to openly support the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba, despite an official request from Washington for Jerusalem to do so. This decision stems from Israel’s reluctance to antagonize the reconciliation’s opponents in the US Congress, most of whom are Republicans and allies of Israel’s right-wing government.
For some time, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had perceived signs that US relations with Cuba were warming up. However, senior officials said that the United States had not briefed Israel on the secret talks it was conducting with Cuba in Canada and the Vatican for over a year. The dramatic announcement about the historic reconciliation issued by Washington and Havana a week ago surprised Israel, whose government ministers only first heard about it from the media. “They didn’t even give us a few minutes’ notice,” a senior Israeli official said.
Officials here were disappointed to have been kept in the dark about the talks as, since the US embargo on Cuba began in 1960, Israel has always toed the line with regard to the American position. Year after year, Israel was virtually the only state that consistently voted in the United Nations with the US against resolutions to lift the embargo. Only two months ago, when the US-Cuba talks were on the verge of reaching an agreement, the Americans still asked Israel to vote with them in the UN General Assembly against lifting the embargo. In that vote, Israel was the only state in the world that supported the Americans. An Israeli official said that, at the time, the Americans gave no hint of ongoing reconciliation talks with Cuba. After announcing the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, US embassies throughout the world asked the respective foreign ministries to issue an official statement supporting the move. A similar request was passed on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.
According to officials at the ministry, a number of discussions were held about the course Israel should take and, in the end, it was decided that no statement of support should presently be issued. In addition to official Israel’s bitterness over the Obama administration’s conduct towards her surrounding the secret negotiations, the main reason for her silence is the strong congressional opposition to the reconciliation with Cuba. The anti-Cuban forces in the US Congress – mainly Republicans, but also Democrats – are perceived here, in general, as being closer to Israel than are the supporters of Obama’s reconciliation with the socialist island. Anti-Cuban figures in Washington include, for example, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.