Petro unilaterally ends Colombia’s seven-decades relationship with Israel

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Petro waves the flag of the M-19 guerrilla next to the Colombian flag. Photo: Presidencia.

In a move that has shaken Colombia’s international reputation to the core, President Gustavo Petro announced the end of longstanding diplomatic relations with Israel. The decision comes amidst escalating tensions fueled by President Petro’s condemnation of Israel’s leadership as “genocidal” in light of the ongoing conflict with Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Speaking at a May Day rally in Bogota, President Petro declared, “Tomorrow, diplomatic relations with the State of Israel will be severed… for having a genocidal president.” The statement cast uncertainty over whether Petro’s remarks were directed at President Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the driving force behind Israel’s military actions.

The country’s first leftist leader then went on to blame Israel for “the girls, the boys, the babies who have died dismembered by the bombs.” The announcement prompted swift retaliation from Jerusalem. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Petro of being “antisemitic and full of hatred,” asserting that Petro had aligned himself with “vile monsters” responsible for heinous atrocities. “History will remember that Gustavo Petro decided to stand alongside the most vile monsters that history has ever known, who burned babies, murdered children, raped women and kidnapped innocent civilians,” stated Katz.

Minister Katz’s rebuke underscores the depth of the diplomatic rupture between the two nations. President Petro’s critique of Israel’s actions in Gaza has been unrelenting. He has refrained from condemning Hamas’s attacks, including October 7, 2023, that claimed the lives of approximately 1,200 Israeli citizens and left 253 civilians held hostage. Petro’s comparison of Israeli officials to Nazis further inflamed tensions, solidifying his stance against Israel’s military offensive.

The severance of diplomatic ties signals the conclusion of a historically robust relationship between Colombia and Israel, characterized by close cooperation since the 1950s. Israel’s decision to halt security exports to Colombia in response to Petro’s accusations against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant exacerbated the diplomatic rift. President Petro’s alignment with Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who similarly criticized Israel’s Gaza campaign as a “genocide,” reflects a minority position of Latin American leaders condemning Israel and subsequently siding with Russia and Iran.

Colombia and Brazil joined South Africa in lodging a complaint against Israel at the International Court of Justice, alleging violations of the Genocide Convention during the Gaza conflict.

As Colombia faces a diplomatic meltdown with the West over Petro’s decision, questions loom over the implications for its armed forces, which have long relied on Israeli-made weaponry. Colombia is the single largest overseas user of the Israeli made Kfir jet fighter. Israel has long been a crucial ally, providing extensive military assistance, including intelligence sharing and security cooperation.

The cessation of this close partnership will leave a significant void in Colombia’s defense infrastructure, potentially compromising its ability to address security challenges as illegal armed groups, expand their territorial control in the country. “With the breaking of relations with Israel, Gustavo Petro achieves one of the main objectives of his government: paralyzing and dismantling the Colombian Armed Forces and Police,” warned former Conservative President Andrés Pastrana.

Even Petro’s first Minister of Finance, José Antonio Ocampo categorically rejected the breaking of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Israel. “Israel is a nation with which we have had excellent political, economic and even military relations. It is also one of the few democratic nations in the Middle East. Colombia should rather join the chorus of countries that promote greater humanitarian aid to Gaza, a prolonged ceasefire and a peace agreement that contemplates, among other elements, the creation of the Palestinian State,” he wrote on his own “X” account.

The former two-term President and Nobel Peace laureate Juan Manuel Santos defended a two-state solution. “This continues to be, today more than ever, the only way for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace. Breaking relations with Israel does nothing to contribute to that solution and has negative consequences for Colombians. Our foreign policy must always defend the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” highlighted Santos.

The rupture will also reshape Colombia’s diplomatic landscape, potentially downgrading a “special relationship” status with Washington. Among the first U.S lawmakers to respond to Petro’s decision was Republican Senator Marco Rubio. “Today the President of #Colombia, a Hamas supporter, severed diplomatic relations with #Israel. Very sad to see that such an incredible country of great people who have suffered so much at the hands of narco terrorists, is currently ruled by a terrorist sympathizer who wants to be the Colombian Hugo Chavez,” stated Rubio on his “X” account.

The U.S Republican Congresswoman, María Elvira Salazar presented a hard-line stance against the Colombian President’s antisemitism. “I have warned about Petro’s dangerous attitude towards the Jews. Now it will break relations with Israel, allying itself with the tyrannies of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Like every Marxist, he diverts attention from his disastrous Government, fueling anti-Semitism. Despicable!,” she said.

Brandishing the Colombian Flag alongside the flag of the M-19 guerrilla, (organization that murdered 109 magistrates during the 1985 siege of the Palace of the Justice) and in which Petro was a combatant, the May Day rally drew 55,000 supporters to the streets of the Colombian capital. Just two weeks after the April 21 protests sprearheaded by the opposition, and one that drew more a one million nationwide, on Wednesday, President Petro was especially prolific on social media, posting more than 40 on the pro-government march.

To exacerbate the global embarrassment of President Petro, on Wednesday, Hamas hailed as a “victory” Colombia’s decision to cut ties with Israel. “We greatly appreciate the position of Colombian President Gustavo Petro… which we consider a victory for the sacrifices of our people and their just cause,” praised the representatives of the terrorist organization.