Israel, Cuba sought to reestablish diplomatic ties — report

Israel, Cuba sought to reestablish diplomatic ties — report

Channel 10: Following US lifting of embargo in 2015, with Canada as broker, Jerusalem sent delegate to Havana; talks ended with election of Trump

Illustrative: An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of the Jewish Community Center in Havana, Cuba, where two men are speaking on August 1, 2004. (Serge Attal/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of the Jewish Community Center in Havana, Cuba, where two men are speaking on August 1, 2004. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

Israel reportedly held secret talks with Cuba a year and a half ago, regarding the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic ties. The talks, which were held in Havana, were put on ice after Donald Trump’s election as US president last November, Channel 10 reported Monday.

Israel and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations in 1973.

The plan to explore reestablishing ties was formulated by the Foreign Ministry in 2015 and was green-lit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister, the report said.

It said Canada, whose embassy in Havana represents Israel’s interests in the Caribbean island nation, brokered the talks at Israel’s request.

For years, Jerusalem had unquestioningly followed Washington’s hardline lead on Cuba, given America’s unstinting support for Israel in various international forums. Then Barack Obama made a sudden, drastic shift toward Havana.

Entrance to Havana’s Patronato, the largest of Cuba’s five functioning synagogues. On July 8, 2017, the Patronato hosted Cuba’s premiere screening of ‘Forgotten Jewels.’ (Larry Luxner/ Times of Israel)

On August 14, 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry reopened the American embassy in the city, reestablishing full diplomatic relations between the countries. The administration “advocate[s] for and support[s] the lifting of the embargo,” Kerry declared during a press conference with his Cuban counterpart. “We believe that that is important.”

Israel was caught off-guard by the American about-face.

Nobody in the administration updated Israel ahead of the drastic change in 2015 policy, leaving some Israeli diplomats feeling abandoned.

However, a few months later the Foreign Ministry reportedly decided to explore the possibility of resuming ties with the Caribbean island nation.

Then-Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold approved the plan to reestablish ties, and Netanyahu gave the “green light,” Channel 10 said.

Following several months of indirect contact, Havana reportedly invited an Israeli delegate, Modi Ephraim, who headed the Latin American division of the Foreign Ministry, for talks. He arrived in mid-2016 for secret discussions with senior officials in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the report said.

President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Palace of the Revolution, in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016 (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Senior officials told Channel 10 the talks were positive and would have continued, but the election of Trump and the changed American stance toward Cuba led to a freezing of the discussions.

Jerusalem considers Havana a key player in shaping public opinion in the Latin American left. In the 1950s and ’60s, cordial relations existed, with Cuba resisting Arab pressure to cut ties after the 1967 Six Day War.

But Havana severed relations in 1973 — not because of the Yom Kippur War but because Fidel Castro sought the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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