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Colombia is cutting diplomatic ties with Israel, but its military relies on key Israeli-built equipment

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia has become the latest Latin American country to announce it will sever diplomatic ties with Israel over its military campaign in Gaza, but the consequences for the South American country could be broader than for others due to long-standing bilateral agreements on security matters.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Wednesday described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide” and announced that his government will end diplomatic relations with Israel effective Thursday. But he did not elaborate on what impact his decision could have on the Colombian military, which uses Israeli-built fighter jets and machine guns to fight drug cartels and rebel groups, and on a free trade deal between the two countries that came into effect in 2020.

Also in the region, Bolivia and Belize have severed diplomatic relations with Israel due to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Here’s a look at Colombia’s close ties and consequences with Israel:

WHY IS SECURITY COOPERATION BETWEEN COLOMBIA AND ISRAEL IMPORTANT?

Colombia and Israel have signed dozens of agreements on a range of issues since establishing diplomatic relations in 1957, including education and trade. But nothing binds them more closely than military contracts.

Colombia’s fighter jets are all Israeli-made. The more than two dozen Israeli-made fighter jets were used by the air force in numerous attacks on remote guerrilla camps, weakening Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. The attacks helped push the rebel group into peace talks that resulted in their disarmament in 2016.

The Colombian military also uses Galil rifles, which were designed in Israel and for which Colombia has acquired the production and sales rights. Israel is also helping the South American country with its cybersecurity needs.

WILL PETRO’S ANNOUNCEMENT AFFECT MILITARY CONTRACTS WITH ISRAEL?

It remains unclear.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that “all communications related to this announcement will be through established official channels and will not be public.” The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press, while the Israeli embassy in Bogota declined to address the issue.

However, a day before Petro announced his decision, Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez told lawmakers that no new contracts will be signed with Israel, although existing contracts will be honored, including those for maintenance for the Kfir fighters and one for missile systems.

Velásquez said the government has created a “transition committee” that would try to “diversify” suppliers to avoid being dependent on Israel. He added that one of the options being considered is the development of a rifle by the Colombian military industry to replace the Galil.

Security cooperation has been at the center of tensions between the two countries. Israel said in October it would halt security exports to Colombia after Petro refused to condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that sparked the war and compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to those of Nazi Germany. In February, Petro announced the suspension of arms purchases from Israel.

According to retired General Guillermo León, former commander of the Colombian Air Force, the country’s military capabilities will be affected if Petro’s government breaks its contract obligations or even if it adheres to them but refuses to sign new ones.

“At the end of the year we will run out of maintenance and spare parts, and from that point on the fleet would quickly enter a state where we would no longer have the resources to maintain it,” he told the AP. “This year three aircraft were withdrawn from service due to their useful life cycle.”

WHAT IS THE TRADE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES?

In August 2020, a free trade agreement between Colombia and Israel came into effect. Israel now buys 1% of total Colombian exports, including coal, coffee and flowers.

Exports to Israel totaled $499 million last year, representing a 53% decline from 2022, according to the Colombian Ministry of Commerce.

Colombian imports from Israel include electrical equipment, plastics and fertilizers.

Neither government has explained whether the diplomatic feud will impact the trade deal.

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