Bolivia seeks Israel’s help in fight against terror after ties renewed

Interior minister says Israelis ‘know how to handle’ terrorists; La Paz set up new anti-terror units aimed at rooting out ‘threatening’ foreign groups

Bolivian Interim Interior Minister Arturo Murillo gestures during an interview with AFP in La Paz, on December 6, 2019. (Aizar Raldes/AFP)
Bolivian Interim Interior Minister Arturo Murillo gestures during an interview with AFP in La Paz, on December 6, 2019. (Aizar Raldes/AFP)

Bolivia’s interim government is seeking Israel’s help to fight terrorism in the South American country, Interior Minister Arturo Murillo said on Friday. The comment came a week after Bolivia announced it was renewing diplomatic ties with Israel after a 10-year hiatus under the leadership of ex-president Evo Morales, now in exile.

Murillo told Reuters local police were investigating leftists with alleged ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro whom he said was trying to destabilize the region. Bolivia’s interim government, headed by President Jeanine Anez, unveiled a new anti-terrorism police force it said was aimed at dismantling foreign groups “threatening” the troubled South American country.

Murillo said Friday that the units were “tough and not messing around,” and that several countries had helped with training. He also said he had asked Israel for help, citing its experience with terrorism.

“We’ve invited them to help us,” Murillo told Reuters. “They’re used to dealing with terrorists. They know how to handle them,” he said of the Israelis. “The only thing we want is to bring peace.”

During a ceremony this week to present the new force, Murillo said the anti-terrorist units have a “mission of dismantling absolutely all the terrorist cells that are threatening our homeland.”

Members of the GAT anti-terrorist unit stand guard during its presentation in La Paz, Bolivia on December 3, 2019. (Aizar Radles/AFP)

The minister said the state had to act to “free Bolivia from these narcoterrorists who have settled in the country in the last 14 years” — a pointed reference to Morales’s term in office.

Morales resigned on November 10 amid swelling protests over what political opponents said was his rigging of October 20 elections. He fled to Mexico the following day after losing the support of the military and police, claiming to be the victim of a coup.

The transitional government of Anez, a former opponent of Morales, has denounced foreign influence in the country since taking power, naming Colombians, Peruvians, Cubans and Venezuelans at different times. Her government has blamed foreigners for provoking violent clashes during more than a month of post-election violence in Bolivia that has left dozens of people dead.

File photo: Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, center, speaks during a press conference at the military base in El Alto, Bolivia, Nov. 10, 2019 (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Last week, the foreign minister of the Latin American country’s transitional government, Karen Longaric, announced in a briefing with reporters that Bolivia would renew ties with Israel.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed the announcement, saying it would “contribute to Israel’s foreign relations and to its international status.”

Katz said the Foreign Ministry had been working to renew diplomatic relations for a long time, including via Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Brazil’s foreign minister. But the move was made possible following the ouster of Morales “who was hostile to Israel,” Katz said, and the emergence of a government sympathetic to the Jewish state.

Bolivia had cut diplomatic ties with Israel in January 2009 after Operation Cast Lead, a war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza. At the time, he called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “a genocide.”

Morales was one of Israel’s fiercest critics during the Gaza war in 2014, when Bolivia declared Israel a “terrorist state.” The country also canceled a 30-year-old agreement enabling Israelis to visit Bolivia without visas.

The new Bolivian government has appeared eager to reset the country’s foreign policy after the departure of Morales. Last week, La Paz appointed its first ambassador to the United States in 11 years.

Under Morales, the country’s ties with the United States were tense. Relations took a turn for the worse under former US leader George W. Bush, with the expulsion of ambassadors from both countries in late 2008.

Since declaring herself interim president, Anez, who has been recognized by the United States, has wasted no time rewriting Bolivia’s foreign policy. She broke ties with socialist Cuba and Maduro of Venezuela.

Anez’s first foreign policy decision was to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president, joining a group of around 50 nations.

Bolivia also fired all its ambassadors except those to Peru and the Vatican.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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