Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday unexpectedly canceled a planned trip to Colombia, citing the volatile security situation in Israel’s south.
“In light of the situation in the south, the prime minister decided to stay in Israel next week and therefore canceled his trip to Colombia,” his spokesperson told reporters, without elaborating.
Netanyahu was set to attend the inauguration of the country’s new president, Iván Duque. During his three-day stay in Bogota between August 6-9, Netanyahu was also expected to meet with various regional leaders, including the presidents of Argentina, Honduras and Guatemala.
It would have been his second trip to the South American state in less than a year. The cancellation is likely to cost the Israeli taxpayer thousands of shekels, given that flights and hotels had already been booked and are now no longer needed, in addition to the cost of preliminary trips to Bogota by his staff.
Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, has said he wanted to improve his country’s good relations with Israel, even openly mulling the idea of moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel’s border with Gaza has seen bouts of violence since March. In recent weeks, rockets and incendiary balloons have been launched from the coastal enclave toward southern Israel, but an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has so far prevented the tense situation from escalating into all-out war.
On July 20, an Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, was killed by Palestinian sniper fire along the border. Levi was the first IDF fatality on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Netanyahu last visited Colombia on September 13, 2017. During his three hours in Bogota, he met with outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos and members of the local Jewish community, as well as signing two bilateral agreements on science and tourism. His brief stay came as part of the first-ever visit to Latin America by a sitting Israeli prime minister.
“I don’t think that the [visits] of the prime minister of Israel… should be 70 years apart, so I guarantee you the next visit will be a lot closer at hand,” he said at the time during a press conference with Santos.
Colombia has been one of Israel’s closest friends in Latin America, with close political, military and economic ties.