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Cablegate: (C/Nf) C-Ne8-00834: Israeli Relations with Costa

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DE RUEHSJ #0710/01 2471744
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031744Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0064
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV PRIORITY 0050
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 SAN JOSE 000710

NOFORN
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, NEA/IPA AND INR/I

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018
TAGS: PINR PARM PREL PGOV KPAL IS XF CS
SUBJECT: (C/NF) C-NE8-00834: ISRAELI RELATIONS WITH COSTA
RICA: BUSINESSLIKE, BUT SOME POLITICAL IRRITANTS

REF: A. STATE 64659
B. 06 SAN JOSE 1841 (ALL NOTAL)
C. 06 SAN JOSE 2263
D. SAN JOSE 129
E. 07 SAN JOSE 1106
F. SAN JOSE 629
G. SAN JOSE 636

Classified By: DCM Peter M. Brennan for reason 1.4 (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY. Despite some concerns and irritants voiced
both publicly and privately to us by the Israeli Ambassador
to Costa Rica, the overall relationship between Costa Rica
and Israel is relatively calm and businesslike. While not as
dynamic as Costa Rica's commercial relationship with the
U.S., the majority of Israeli-Costa Rican contact is
economically-oriented. Political relations, however, have
suffered recently due to shifts in Costa Rican policy towards
the Middle East, such as the recognition of Palestinian
"statehood," the establishment of diplomatic relations with
some Arab nations, possible Costa Rican support for Israel to
engage in dialogue with Hamas, and the move of the Costa
Rican Embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in August 2006.
Most local contacts, and we agree, believe that these moves
were partially designed to help Costa Rica win its bid for a
seat on the UNSC 2008-2009. Costa Rica supports a peaceful
and two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian question.

2. (SBU) Security cooperation or assistance between Israel
and Costa Rica is nearly non-existent, the only concrete
examples being normal law enforcement cooperation, such as
extraditions, and infrequent and small-scale police training.
END SUMMARY.

===================
POLITICAL RELATIONS
===================

3. (C) THE EXODUS FROM JERUSALEM DEFINES RELATIONS - The
GOCR's unexpected August 2006 announcement that it would move
its embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (Ref B) has colored
Israeli-Costa Rican relations throughout the Arias
Administration. The GOCR's official explanation was that it
was righting itself with UNSC Resolution 478 and looking to
increase opportunities for foreign direct investment from the
Middle East. In a 2002 "La Nacion" newspaper article, then
ex-President Oscar Arias recommended moving the Costa Rican
Embassy to Tel Aviv, calling its location in Jerusalem an
"injustice for the Palestinians." Addressing that
"injustice" was one of his first foreign policy moves after
returning to office. The motivation, however, was shaped
more by his administration's determination to assume a
non-permanent seat on the UNSC, than to effect an equitable
Israeli/Palestinian solution. (NOTE: Costa Rica was elected
from the GRULAC Group in October 2007 for the 2008-2009 term.
END NOTE)

4. (C) Arias viewed the Security Council as key to advancing
his global objectives on conventional arms reductions,
environmental protection and foreign assistance for
"responsible" international actors such as Costa Rica.
FonMin Bruno Stagno (who in 2006 had just left his post as
the GOCR's UN Ambassador) made it clear, telling "La Nacion"
on August 16, 2006 that "putting Costa Rica in harmony" with
UNSC resolutions was the reason for the embassy move.

5. (SBU) INCREASED ARAB TIES - The embassy move to Tel Aviv
yielded diplomatic results. Costa Rica restored relations
with Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen (Ref C) in 2006. Then,
on February 5 of this year, the MFA announced that Costa Rica
and the "State" of Palestine had agreed to establish
diplomatic relations and would exchange ambassadors at some
future date (Ref D). According to Stagno, the Palestinian
decision showed the GOCR's "gradual normalization of
diplomatic relations with the Arab and Islamic world in
general, as part of a foreign policy of opening borders and
minds, which reinforces an intelligent engagement of Costa
Rica in the World (unofficial translation)."

6. (SBU) The MFA announcement further noted that of the 15
nations with which Costa Rica established full diplomatic

SAN JOSE 00000710 002 OF 004


7. (C) ISRAELIS IRRITATED BUT NOT TENSE - As a result of GOCR
support for the "State" of Palestine and deepening Arab ties,
in-country Israeli diplomats have been concerned about
relations between Israel and Costa Rica. Ehud Eitam,
Israel's Ambassador to Costa Rica, told us on August 20 that
Costa Rica's relationship with Israel could be better in
light of the Embassy move and increased Arab-Costa Rican
ties. However, he did not dwell on the issue and seemed to
be more curious about what Costa Rica's next no-notice
international move would be. This is in some contrast to
Eitam's initial reactions in June to Costa Rica's alleged
call in the UN for Israeli dialogue with Hamas (see paras
7-10 below).

8. (U) NEW POLICIES ANGER SOME DOMESTIC POLITICAL ELITE - The
Arias Administration's Middle Eastern policies have generated
some criticism from the country's political elite. In a May
20 Op-Ed in the daily "Diario Extra," former President Luis
Alberto Monge criticized the Middle Eastern policies of
President Arias and his brother Rodrigo (who is also Minister
of the Presidency) as being "neo-Nazi." Monge, whose ex-wife
is Jewish, has traditionally been a firm supporter of Israel
and critical of any overt support of the Palestinians or
perceived "anti-Israeli" actions. In the Op-Ed, Monge
charged that the Arias brothers' "regime," with support from
"La Nacion," established diplomatic relations with a
non-existent Palestinian State. Monge compared the Arias
Administration to those of Castro's Cuba, Chavez's Venezuela
and Ortega's Nicaragua, who also have recognized the "State"
of Palestine. Monge's comments had no impact on the
government, however.

===================================
GOCR CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH HAMAS?
===================================

9. (SBU) In early June, Israeli Ambassador Eitam shared his
concerns with us regarding a June 4 MFA press release that
denied statements by the GOCR UN Ambassador calling for
Israeli dialogue with Hamas. The press statement was
prompted by remarks made in the National Assembly on June 2-3
by legislator Jose Manuel Echandi (Independent) with
information provided to him by the Israeli Embassy in Costa
Rica. Echandi criticized the GOCR's UN Ambassador Jorge
Urbina for asking Israel to converse with Hamas during a UNSC
session. For text of Echandi's remarks, see:
http://www.asemblea.go.cr/actas/2006-2010.

10. (C) At the time, Eitam seemed deeply concerned about
Costa Rica's overtures to Hamas. He told us that MFA denials
notwithstanding, Urbina had indeed made statements urging
dialogue with Hamas and claimed that the MFA was trying to
backtrack and cover this up. (MFA contacts, including in the
Minister's office, later insisted to us that Urbina's
comments had been misconstrued by some Jewish Costa Ricans.)
Eitam went on to allege that Stagno's Israeli National Day
speech, as quoted in the June 4 MFA press release, was
modified to further justify the Arias administration's
position of recognizing the "State" of Palestine (see Ref B
for more of Eitam's then reaction to the recognition). Eitam
recommended that we keep an eye on this dynamic both in San
Jose and in the UN. (NOTE: The MFA press statement quoted
President Bush and Vice President Cheney on the importance of
a two-state solution, apparently to justify the GOCR's
position. END NOTE)

11. (U) In the June 4 press release (full text at
http://www.ree.go.cr) the MFA denied that Urbina suggested
dialogue between Israel and Hamas. The statement expressed
Costa Rica's hopes for peace; advocated a dialogue of peace
between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud
Abbas; blamed Arab countries for frustrating the development
of a Palestinian state; and laid out reasons for Costa Rica's
recognition of Palestine. The MFA called the

SAN JOSE 00000710 003 OF 004


Israeli/Palestinian conflict an asymmetrical one which
required asymmetrical concessions, and said that it was time
for both parties to accept that peace had a price and would
require painful, uncomfortable sacrifices.

12. (U) The MFA press release went on to say that the current
leaders of the Palestinian National Authority "deserve our
support, although we do not necessarily share all their
views" because those leaders were the only viable alternative
to a terrorist-controlled government. The MFA called Costa
Rica a "torch bearer" for Israel's right to exist in peace
and urged an end to black-and-white thinking on the
Israeli/Palestinian issue.

==================
ECONOMIC RELATIONS
==================

13. (SBU) Economic relations between Costa Rica and Israel
are positive but relatively small. We do not expect, for
example, a Free Trade Agreement anytime soon. Israel
primarily exports high tech material to Costa Rica in the
form of communications equipment. Costa Rica, on the other
hand, mainly exports coffee to Israel. Ambassador Eitam told
us the trade relationship was "not huge" but highlighted that
both countries had Intel plants producing microchips,
resulting in some bilateral cooperation.

14. (SBU) With the prospective opening of the Costa Rican
telecommunications field under CAFTA, Eitam said Israel was
eager to get even further into the Tico market. One Israeli
firm, ECI Telecom, is already present and recently won a new
contract from Racsa (Costa Rica's national internet service)
to offer Costa Rican customers super-bandwidth for their
internet connections. ECI Telecom also has a contract,
though somewhat delayed, to install a country-wide
fiber-optic network for Racsa.

============================================= ======
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT COOPERATION
============================================= ======

15. (C) The security relationship between Costa Rica and
Israel is practically non-existent. Eitam told us that
Israel had made some arms transfers to the Ministry of Public
Security (MPS), approximately 15-20 years ago. (NOTE: Post
has seen some MPS units outfitted with older Uzis and
Galil-type rifles, but most are in poor condition. END
NOTE). Eitam said that Israel had no plans to ship any
weapons to Costa Rica and added that they are not interested
in making security donations, including non-lethal aid, to
the GOCR.

16. (SBU) Israel and Costa Rica do cooperate on standard law
enforcement issues, such as extraditions and police training.
Eitam said that Israel had a regional police attache in
Bogota who visited Costa Rica occasionally. He added that
this attache had helped train President Arias' bodyguards in
the past. Eitam mentioned that Israel had provided some
community policing courses for Costa Rica, but usually for
not more than one to two officers per year. He mentioned
that he had discussed the possibility of further security and
law enforcement cooperation with former Minister of Public
Security Fernando Berrocal and with Vice President Laura
Chinchilla, but they had not followed up and Eitam did not
push it.

=============================
GOCR AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
=============================

17. (SBU) The Arias Administration has a friendly
relationship with its affluent Costa Rican Jewish community,
mainly located in the San Jose area. In April, we visited
the Jewish Orthodox synagogue in San Jose and spoke with
Salomon Aizenman, prominent restaurant franchise operator and
President of the Jewish Zionist Center of Costa Rica.
Aizenman told us that 2500 Orthodox and 300 Reform Jews made
up the local Jewish community. When asked to whom he would
turn if the Jewish community experienced discrimination or
needed support from the government, Aizenman said that he

SAN JOSE 00000710 004 OF 004


would call President Arias directly.

18. (SBU) He characterized GOCR relations with the Jewish
community as excellent and emphasized that the Jewish
community in Costa Rica was, after all, Costa Rican. He
pointed to two recent examples of GOCR support. First, after
a worldwide Hezbollah threat against Jews at the beginning of
the year, the Ministry of Public Security stationed Fuerza
Publica police officers at the entrance to the synagogue for
more than four months. Second, when a synagogue member saw
anti-Semitic graffiti on a road sign, the Ministry of Public
Works and Transportation immediately authorized its removal.

19. (U) On June 18, Channel 7 news featured the opening of
the Costa Rican-Israeli Cultural Institute. The opening
ceremony paid homage to ex-President Monge, who was in
attendance. Speaking for the Jewish community, Aizenman
expressed that the opening of the center would strengthen
already close relations between the people of Costa Rica and
Israel.

Apart from the Jewish community in San Jose, a very small
community of Israelis settled in the last few years in the
Malpais tourist area on the Pacific Coast.

=======
COMMENT
=======

20. (C) Although noteworthy, especially since Costa Rica will
remain on the UNSC until December 31, 2009, we do not see
minor irritants in Costa Rican-Israeli relations effecting
USG interests in the region. We focus more closely, as the
Israeli Ambassador mentioned, on the direction of Costa
Rica's foreign policy and its next "surprise" international
move (especially in regards to Cuba and Costa Rica's imminent
membership in Petrocaribe (Ref G)). Although there is no
particular Costa Rican cooperation with Israel to limit the
influence of Iran in the region, we do not detect any
sympathy for Iran on the part of Costa Rica nor any expansion
or opening of relations. To the GOCR (as to most other
governments in Central America), Iran has no natural ties to
the region. The Arias Administration is concerned, however,
about Iran and non-proliferation, and is active on these
issues in New York.
CIANCHETTE

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