Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to Buenos Aires next week. He is scheduled to meet with President Mauricio Macri on September 11 and 12. Their meeting is expected focus on solidifying security cooperation, arms deals, and agriculture exchanges between Israel and Argentina.
Netanyahu’s visit marks the first time a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has visited South America. After visiting Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, he will visit Colombia and Mexico. Like US Vice President Mike Pence, Netanyahu will travel with businessmen from his country to deepen commercial ties. At the same time, the Macri administration likely hopes to improve upon the free trade agreement that Mercosur signed with Israel in 2007.
While in Buenos Aires, Netanyahu will hold two memorial services with Macri for the victims of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 attack on the AMIA community center, and take part in a large event with members of the Jewish community. In March, Netanyahu called Macri to thank him for his government’s efforts to seek justice for the families of victims of the embassy bombing.
The Israeli Prime Minister remarked that he was “impressed” with Macri’s understanding of the challenges of terrorism, and that he hopes to enhance defense and counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries. Haaretz reported that defense cooperation has deepened between Argentina and Israel recently; in 2015, Israel sold US $111 million worth of 74 Argentine TAM tanks.
Macri and Netanyahu have a strong relationship, which they developed at a Davos World Economic Forum summit in 2016. The leaders’ approach marks a new positive era in Argentine-Israeli relations and is a departure from the distrust of the Kirchner era.
“Argentina has made a change very favorable with respect to relations with Israel since the new government was elected. I have received many invitations to visit different countries, but Argentina is a priority,” Netanyahu said last year during the National Jewish Congress in Jerusalem.
The last El Al (Israeli Airlines) flight between Argentina and Israel occurred when Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped by Mossad in 1960 – an event that damaged bilateral relations and led to a series of anti-Semitic incidents. However, Netanyahu’s flight is expected to be the first of many: El Al and Aerolineas Argentinas signed a codeshare agreement in August to open a direct flight between Buenos Aires and Jerusalem.
“We are currently developing ties with Latin America. It is a great market in a large bloc of important countries. There is a breakthrough here,” Netanyahu said Wednesday at the Foreign Ministry. Although the leaders will likely get along well, authorities are working to ensure that Netanyahu’s visit remains peaceful. Netanyahu’s policies have made his visit controversial with a number of Argentines, especially the Jewish Argentine Calling organization, a community close to Kirchnerism and opposed to the two prominent local Jewish community organizations DAIA and AMIA.
As Perfil reported, the organization states that Netanyahu is “the one responsible for the continuation of colonial policies of occupation in the Palestinian territories” and denounces Macri’s alignment with “neoliberal, bellicose and repressive logics” and criticized its support for Israel. Authorities expect protests to disrupt parts of the visit.
Separately, security was strengthened after threats were detected from an anarchist organization in Cordoba. “There will be protests, but the visit is very important for us,” the government noted this week.
Netanyahu’s embroilment in a litany of corruption scandals adds to the distractions. In August, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff signed a deal with the prosecutors office to testify against his former boss. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s wife Sara will likely be indicted due to three separate cases related to fraud.
As The Economist explained in August, “the prime minister and his supporters have adopted Trumpian tactics. On his social media accounts Mr Netanyahu has branded the Israeli press as “fake news”; loyalists accuse it of trying to bring down the elected government.”
As Macri and Netanyahu strengthen the bilateral relationship, the prime minister should hope that his trip abroad will distract from scandals at home.