Latin America Picks Palestine

Growing Iranian clout -- and America’s silence -- leave Israel isolated.

Over the last two weeks, emerging global powers Brazil and Argentina have both given diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, existing within the 1967 borders and with a capital city in Jerusalem. This understandably annoyed the Israelis, who have been struggling to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians for decades. Given that every reasonable observer agrees that any Israeli-Palestinian peace accord will involve some border adjustments and territory swaps, it is odd that Brazil and Argentina would choose to recognize a Palestinian state as existing on territory that even the Palestinians would likely concede, if only off the record, will remain Israeli under any settlement.

Argentina and Brazil are not significant players in the Middle East. As the Israelis correctly point out, neither of them has played any part in the peace process, so their input, while welcome news for the Palestinian negotiators, is entirely symbolic. Argentina even tacitly admitted the entirely symbolic nature of their recognition when they said they recognized Palestine because it had a right to become a state — in other words, they're recognizing it as a state today in the hopes it will become one tomorrow. A rather strange use of diplomacy, but not unprecedented in recent times — recall the choice to award the Nobel Peace Prize to a President who had probably not even finished unpacking from his move into the White House when the decision was reached.

The move by the Latin American nations is unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on the achingly slow progress of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Many much more important countries have recognized Palestine without it doing the Palestinian people any good. But the recent developments certainly do speak to a disturbing trend in Latin America. Iran, Israel's archenemy, has been expanding its reach there, while the United States has proven unwilling or unable to use its diplomatic power to protect its Israeli ally. America still tells the world it is prepared to defend Israel, but actions speak louder than words, and Iran and Venezuela, both hostile to the United States, are having no trouble at all making friends around the world. And where Iranian and/or Venezuelan influence spreads, Israel's popularity soon wanes.

Much of the world’s attention has been on Russia’s renewed interest in Latin America, with military visits and shipments of weapons. But Iran has been just as busy. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been nothing if not open with their friendship, frequently appearing together at conferences or visiting each other’s capitals to discuss economic and defense agreements. Venezuela was even considered a potential source of aid for Iran’s nuclear program, but U.S. diplomatic cables obtained via the WikiLeaks release suggests that while Chavez is happy let people think Venezuela is helping Iran’s nuclear program, the country is, in fact, too broke and technologically backwards to be of any assistance.

But Iran has been investing heavily in Latin America, establishing strong trading relationships with countries there. Iran, in cooperation with Venezuela, have coordinated diplomatic efforts, and Iran’s Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, has been implicated in the Latin American drug trade. Involvement in the smuggling of drugs not only runs counter to American efforts to crush the drug trade and foster good governance in the region, but also provides funds necessary to build Hezbollah’s strength as Iran’s second-strike weapon, aimed at Israel. Meanwhile, even as Iranian diplomacy has been earning it friends and diplomatic support in Latin America, it has continued to flout U.S.-led efforts by the international community to rein in its nuclear programs.

In terms of psychological warfare, in other words, Iran is winning some key battles against the United States in Latin America. The Latin American nations are aware of America’s military and economic strength, but nonetheless, they see with their own eyes Iran’s aggressive posturing in South America while America seems not to notice, so distracted she is by her own serious economic problems. Given that, and America’s often unhappy history with its southern neighbors, it is not surprising that Latin American nations are increasingly taking foreign policy positions contrary to the security interests of the United States and its allies, choosing instead to side with the more confident anti-American voices.

They are not wrong to do so. One might disagree with their decision to recognize Palestine over Israel’s objections, but it makes strategic sense. Israel is virtually alone in the world, actively supported only by Canada and the United States, with some level of grudging support coming from Europe, as well. Israel’s many enemies, on the other hand, are not only determined to see Palestine created regardless of how it impacts on Israel’s security, but cannot help but notice that Israel’s traditional ally, the United States, is under this current administration noticeably less friendly towards the Jewish state. The tide of global public opinion has always gone against Israel. That will only increase as America steps back and more and more countries choose to side with Israel’s enemies, knowing they have nothing to lose.

Thus continues the troubling isolation of the Middle East’s only stable democracy. Israel has enemies to the north, enemies to the south, faces an existential threat from Iran’s nuclear program, can count on no support from the United Nations and must put up with an international community that demands they make peace with people who don’t recognize their right to exist. While Brazil and Argentina might think they’re somehow helping the Palestinian people, the reverse is in fact true. The rising volume of the world’s anti-Israel chorus, and the silence of its largest friend, will only trap the Jewish state further. Does anyone truly expect good things to come of that?

Israel will not accept a Palestinian state on unfair terms, nor will it do nothing while Iran continues to build nuclear bombs. It could use the help of nations such as Brazil and Argentina in its efforts to build a workable peace and contain the Iranian threat. But Israel has learned, as noted journalist Caroline Glick recently wrote, to never count on the international community to save it from its enemies. Israel must look after itself, because no one else will.

Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.