Fearing Congress, Israel Won't Publicly Support U.S.-Cuba Thaw

Israeli decision comes despite an official request from Washington to back reconciliation between U.S. and Cuba.

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A U.S. and Cuban flag hang from the same balcony in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.
A U.S. and Cuban flag hang from the same balcony in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: AP

Despite an official request from Washington, Israel has decided not to support the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba at this stage, senior officials in Jerusalem said on Wednesday.

The decision stems from Israel’s reluctance to antagonize the reconciliation’s opponents in the U.S. Congress, most of whom are Republicans and allies of Israel.

The Foreign Ministry had received signs that the United States’ relations with Cuba were warming up. However, senior officials said the United States had not briefed Israel on the secret talks it conducted with Cuba in Canada and the Vatican for over a year.

The dramatic announcement issued by Washington and Havana a week ago about the historic reconciliation surprised Israel, whose government ministers heard of it first from the media. “They didn’t even give us a few minutes’ notice,” a senior Israeli official said.

Israeli officials were disappointed to have been kept in the dark about the talks, as it had always toed the line on the American embargo on Cuba, which began in 1960. Year after year Israel was about the only state that voted with the United States in the United Nations against resolutions to lift the embargo.

Only two months ago, when the U.S.-Cuba talks were on the verge of an agreement, the Americans still asked Israel to vote with them in the UN General Assembly against removing the embargo. Israel was the only state in the world that supported the Americans in that vote. An Israeli official said the Americans had given no hint of the reconciliation talks with Cuba.

After announcing the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. embassies throughout the world asked the respective foreign ministries to issue an official statement supporting the move. A similar request was passed to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials held a number of discussions about the course Israel should take. The bottom line was that Israel should not issue a statement of support at this time, officials said. One of the main reasons for this, in addition to the sourness about the Obama administration’s conduct toward Israel in this issue, was the strong objection in Congress to the reconciliation with Cuba.

The anti-Cuban forces in Congress – mainly in the Republican Party, but also in the Democratic Party – are seen, on the whole. as being closer to Israel than are the supporters of Obama’s opening to the communist island near Florida. The anti-Cuban figures in Washington include, for example, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

Jerusalem decided that as long as it isn’t clear where the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba was heading, it was better to wait and not issue statements about policy changes that could annoy Israel’s friends in Congress who object to the reconciliation.

Besides declining to issue a statement supporting the reconciliation with Cuba, Israel conveyed public messages intended for Congress members, among others, that it wasn’t keen on the move.

Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, a native of Miami – the bastion of the Castro regime’s opponents, known as “Cuban exiles” – said Israel had always supported the American embargo policy, due among other reasons to the Castro regime’s hostility toward Israel.

“We followed the United States’ lead on this issue. There was no love lost between Israel and the Castro regime. Castro had supported some of the worst enemies of Israel, terrorist organizations that were fighting Israel, attacked Israel in international forums,” Dermer said in an interview with Fusion, an American TV station on Tuesday.

Cuba cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973, about a month before the Yom Kippur War. Then-President Fidel Castro took the move in a bid to increase the support of the non-aligned nations bloc in the United Nations for Cuba.

The Cuban move surprised Israel. Since then Cuba’s policy has been anti-Israeli, especially in the UN institutions.

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