Netanyahu backs off from Cuban-Israeli dialogue

Ben Smith at Politico reports:

The incoming chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs helped shut down an unexpected diplomatic opening between Cuba and Israel earlier this year, sources in Jerusalem and Washington confirmed.

Israeli leaders reacted warmly to an unexpected defense of Jews and Israel [also see here], and criticism of Iran, from Cuban leader Fidel Castro in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Castro’s "deep understanding" and President Shimon Peres wrote in a warm letter to Castro that the comments were "a surprising bridge between the hard reality and a new horizon." Israeli officials, I’m told, saw the moment as an opportunity to widen a fissure in the hostility of the global left toward Israel.

But Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — a key player because of her position on Foreign Affairs, and a longtime supporter of Israel —- was less pleased by the opening. A Cuban exile and fierce Castro foe, she made her displeasure known to the Israelis — and even received an apologetic call from Netanyahu, which appears effectively to have squelched the unlikely dialogue with Cuba.

“I just said look, this guy has been an enemy of Israel, just because he said something that a normal person would say — after 50 years of anti-Israel incitement, it’s one phrase from an old guy who doesn’t even know where he’s standing,” Ros-Lehtinen told me of the exchange. 

I’m of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I don’t like seeing Israel (or any other country) lending credibility to the repressive Cuban regime. On the other hand I could only relish the reaction of the Castro-loving, Israel-hating “anti-imperialist” Left to a Cuban-Israeli rapprochement.