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Colombia cuts diplomatic ties with Israel, but its military relies on key Israeli-made equipment

Bogota Colombia — Colombia has become the latest Latin American country to announce that it will cut diplomatic ties with Israel over its military operation in the Gaza Strip. However, the impact for the South American country could be more far-reaching than for other countries due to long-standing bilateral agreements on security issues.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro called Israel’s actions in Gaza “genocide” on Wednesday and announced that his government would end diplomatic ties with Israel effective Thursday. But he did not address 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, or on a free trade agreement between the two countries that came into force in 2020.

Bolivia and Belize have also broken off their diplomatic relations with Israel in the region because of the Israel-Hamas war.

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

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

Colombia’s fighter jets are all built in Israel. The more than 20 Israeli-made Kfir fighter jets were used by the air force in numerous attacks on remote guerrilla camps that weakened the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The attacks helped push the rebel group toward peace talks that led to its disarmament in 2016.

But the fleet, acquired in the late 1980s, is aging and requires maintenance that can only be carried out by an Israeli company. Manufacturer in FranceSweden and the United States have approached the Colombian government with replacement options, but the Petro government’s spending priorities lie elsewhere.

The Colombian military also uses Galil rifles developed in Israel, which Colombia has acquired the rights to manufacture and sell. Israel is also supporting the South American country with its cybersecurity needs.

It remains unclear.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that “all communications related to this announcement will be made 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 would be signed with Israel but that existing contracts would be fulfilled, including those for maintenance of the Kfir fighter jets and one for missile systems.

Velásquez said the government had set up a “transition committee” that would try to “diversify” suppliers to avoid dependence on Israel. He added that one of the possibilities being considered was the development of a rifle by the Colombian military industry to replace the Galil.

Security cooperation was 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’s 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 a halt to arms purchases from Israel.

For retired Gen. Guillermo León, the former commander of the Colombian Air Force, the country’s military capabilities will be compromised if Petro’s government violates or even honors its treaty obligations but refuses to sign new contracts.

“At the end of the year we run out of maintenance and spare parts, and from then on the fleet would quickly go into a state where we would no longer have the means to maintain it,” he told the AP. “This year three aircraft were withdrawn from service due to compliance with their usage cycle.”

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

According to Colombia’s Trade Ministry, exports to Israel totaled $499 million last year, down 53% from 2022.

Colombia’s imports from Israel include electrical appliances, plastics and fertilizers.

Neither government has said whether the diplomatic feud will affect the trade deal.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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