Netanyahu to discuss Hezbollah threat with Latin American leaders

PM lands in Buenos Aires, to visit memorial to victims of 1992 Iranian-sponsored suicide bombing at Israeli embassy

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 11, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 11, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he intends to discuss Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America when he meets with heads of states during his visit to the region this week.

Netanyahu kicked off his four-day trip to the region in Buenos Aires, the site of  two Iranian-orchestrated terror attacks that targeted Israeli and Jewish targets in the early 1990s and that have been traced to Iranian proxy Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is operating on the continent in various areas, and this will also be on the agenda,” Netanyahu told reporters as his Boeing 767 descended into the Argentinian capital.

“These countries have security issues,” and seek Israel’s expertise in these areas, he added.

Netanyahu’s four-day trip to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico this week marks the first time an Israeli prime minister visits Latin America. The president of Paraguay is traveling to Buenos Aires to meet with him on Tuesday.

Netanyahu said that he was looking into the option of a second visit to Peru in April.

He refused to take questions from the traveling press regarding his legal woes at home.

Upon landing at Buenos Aires airport, the prime minister’s delegation was scheduled to head to the site of the former Israeli embassy, which was devastated by a suicide bombing on March 17, 1992. Twenty-nine people were killed in the attack, including four members of Israel’s foreign service. Three Israelis whose loved ones were killed were on the prime minister’s plane.

In this March 17, 1992, file photo, firemen and rescue workers walk through the debris of Israel’s Embassy after a terrorist attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Don Rypka, File )

Netanyahu was scheduled to speak later Monday at the AMIA Jewish Center, which was bombed on July 18, 1994. Eighty-five people were killed by the blast, which was carried out by a 21-year-old Hezbollah operative sent by Iran.

Argentine Present Mauricio Macri, whom Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Tuesday, canceled a deal the previous Argentinian government struck with Iran about cooperating in the investigation into the two terror attacks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri at the the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 21, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

“We will talk about this,” Netanyahu said, adding that he did not expect new revelations to emerge from the meeting.

Israeli and US officials have warned that Hezbollah still has a presence in Latin America, including as part of a drug smuggling scheme to raise money for the terror group.

“We always need to be alert since Hezbollah has dormant cells in Latin America,” the Israeli consul in Sao Paulo, Dori Goren, told JTA earlier this year. “There are large Shiite Muslim communities and there is the recent arrival of Syrian refugees, Today, we don’t send alerts, there is no need to panic, but we are always vigilant, for Israeli missions are a continuous target.”

Netanyahu said the visit “marks a dramatic change in the relations between Israel and Latin America.”

He cited the Jewish state’s technological, military and intelligence know-how as the main reasons why countries are increasingly seeking to cooperate with Israel.

“But there are also changes within the countries themselves,” he said, explaining that many states in Latin America were dominated for decades by left-wing governments but that this has started to change.

Ties with Latin America were hitherto neglected by Israeli governments, he went on. “It was difficult to reach the continent, physically and politically.” Citing Israel’s status as an ascending hi-tech and security powerhouse, as well as his personal ties with many of the country’s leaders, he indicated that Israel’s effort to reach out Latin America will be sustained.

“My intention is not to come here and then leave again,” he declared, adding that he seeks to entrench Israel’s budding relations with the continent.

For this purpose, he said, he is considering flying to Peru in the spring for a regional conference, though he did not specify which one.

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