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Secret Negotiations and Promises of Aid: How Israel Restored Diplomatic Relations With Nicaragua

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Former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega in Managua, 2007.
Former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega in Managua, 2007.Credit: REUTERS

The announcement on Tuesday night that Israel and Nicaragua restored diplomatic relations followed a year of secret negotiations, mediation by a third state and private individuals, and an Israeli promise of economic assistance, according to senior foreign ministry officials who were involved in the complex talks.

In early June 2010, a few days after Israel stormed the Mavi Marmara, the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, Managua announced it was cutting off diplomatic relations with Israel. The two states’ relations were already tense in the years leading up to the incident due to Nicaragua's radical left-wing government, President Daniel Ortega’s extremely critical views on Israel and Nicaragua’s strengthening relationship with Iran.

Israel did not have an embassy in Managua and relations with the country fell under the jurisdiction of the Israeli ambassador in Guatemala.

Over a year ago, Israel decided to try resuming diplomatic relations with four Latin American countries: Cuba, which severed ties in 1973, Bolivia and Venezuela, which both severed ties after the Gaza war of 2008-2009, and Nicaragua. The ministry decided that the highest chances of success were with Nicaragua.

The ministry detected Nicaragua’s desire to forge closer ties with the United States and to draw investments and foreign aid to improve its economic situation. A senior ministry official who requested anonymity said it was decided to approach the Nicaraguan government to see whether Ortega was interested in resuming ties with Israel.

The official said the first messages to Managua were transmitted through a Central American state that has good ties with Israel, as well as through private individuals. Several months later Nicaragua agreed to receive an official Israeli envoy for preliminary talks. A year ago, Modi Efraim, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Latin America, secretly traveled to Managua.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (R) and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro stand in front of a picture of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Managua, June 29, 2013.Credit: AFP

A ministry official said Efraim met a few of Ortega’s confidants and delivered the proposal that they reexamine their decision to cut ties with Israel. He suggested a first stage in which relations between the countries would be restored unconditionally. At the second stage, Israel would examine giving Nicaragua aid both directly, mainly through infrastructure and water assistance, and indirectly by encouraging Israeli businesspeople to invest in Nicaragua. The official said Israel did not offer security aid, nor did Nicaragua show any interest in it.

The visit ended on a positive note but without decisions. The talks continued in the months that followed through dozens of telephone conversations and email messages between Efraim and senior Nicaraguan officials, coordinated by the deputy foreign minister. Alongside the official channels, several Israeli and Jewish individuals with close ties to senior Nicaraguan officials also worked on resuming relations.

The talks were recently accelerated and two weeks ago Efraim paid another secret visit to Managua in a bid to bring about a breakthrough. “We knew the government was ready but we didn’t know if we could close it,” a senior ministry official said.

Efraim met the Nicaraguan foreign minister and several of Ortega’s senior advisors. After two days of talks the sides reached an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations.

Once the agreement was made the parties worked on drafting a joint announcement, which was supposed to be issued next week. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public statement on Tuesday that another state would soon announce the resumption of diplomatic ties with Israel led to the disclosure of the talks with Nicaragua and required speeding up the process. An official announcement was made Tuesday night.

“This is a diplomatic achievement because this is a state that had been extremely critical toward us. It was connected to Cuba, connected to Iran and gave the Palestinians considerable assistance,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

“Relations have resumed and now we have direct dialogue with them. It doesn’t mean they’ll support us in everything, but it’s a fundamental change for the better,” he added.