Visiting Israel, Guatemala’s incoming president vows to outlaw Hezbollah

Visiting Israel, Guatemala’s incoming president vows to outlaw Hezbollah

Alejandro Giammattei says he’ll ban all branches of Iranian-backed terror group, pledges to convince other countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem

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

Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei in Jerusalem, December 9, 2019 (Avi Hayun)
Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei in Jerusalem, December 9, 2019 (Avi Hayun)

Guatemala is going to formally recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the Central American country’s president-elect announced this week during his first-ever visit to Israel.

Alejandro Giammattei also said that he not only intends to keep the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem, but that he will urge other nations to transfer their Israel embassies to the city as well.

Giammattei, who won the June presidential election but will only be inaugurated next month, updated President Reuven Rivlin and Foreign Minister Israel Katz about his planned move to outlaw Hezbollah.

“The decision will take effect as soon as I take office, as part of the security cooperation with Israel, and will include all aspects of Hezbollah, including the economic one,” he told the Israel Hayom daily in an interview published Monday.

After their meeting, Katz said in a tweet that he was “happy” about the incoming Guatemalan leader’s promise to outlaw Hezbollah.

Some governments only recognize the Lebanese group’s military wing as a terrorist organization, maintaining ties to its political branch.

In August, Paraguay recognized only the armed wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Also this summer, Argentina recognized the Iranian-backed group as a terrorist organization, freezing its assets in the country.

Hezbollah is responsible for two deadly terror attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina in the mid-1990s, and is still known to maintain an extensive network all across Latin America.

“Israel’s friends are our friends; Israel’s enemies are our enemies,” Giammattei said Sunday during his meeting with Rivlin at the President’s Residence.

Speaking Monday at a conference organized by the Israel Allies Caucus in Jerusalem, he offered two reasons for his determination to keep his country’s embassy in the city.

“First of all, faith,” said Giammattei, who is Catholic, as opposed to the outgoing president, the Evangelical Jimmy Morales. He added that Christianity is descendant from the “people of Israel.”

“And secondly, between Israel and Guatemala there is not merely friendship but an alliance for a long time,” he said.

A woman walks across Israel square in Guatemala City, Dec. 27, 2017. (Orlando Estrada/AFP/Getty Images)

Giammattei said he did not make requests of the Israeli government for his pledge to keep the embassy in Jerusalem. “You don’t ask anything from a friend, certainly not from an ally,” he said.

“We in Guatemala have been with Israel from the very beginning — we recognized Israel since 1947, and now we’re convincing all the countries in the world to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said.

On May 16, 2018, Guatemala opened its Jerusalem embassy — two days after the US ceremoniously opened its mission in the city. As of today, the US and Guatemala are the only countries that operate embassies there.

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