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August 21, 2013 11:13 pm

New Paraguayan President, Who Employs Israeli Advisers, Seeks to Boost Relations With Israel

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) with newly installed President of Paraguay, businessman Horacio Cortes, on August 15, 2013. Photo: Israel Foreign Ministry.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) with newly installed President of Paraguay, businessman Horacio Cortes, on August 15, 2013. Photo: Israel Foreign Ministry.

Paraguay announced recently that it planned to re-open its embassy in Israel after it was closed for eight years due to budgetary concerns. Newly installed President Horacio Cartes personally shared the good news with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who visited Paraguay last week. Israel might have sent its ambassador to Asuncion, but was similarly forced to end its presence there because of the expense, and is now running its regional diplomatic operations from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Amid the discussions between the President, a former Paraguayan businessman, and the Israeli diplomat, about increasing formal bilateral relations, Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported that independently acting Israelis have quietly been active in the South American country’s political scene and may have been behind the decision to re-open the embassy in Israel.

According to the report it was an Israeli campaign strategist, Yechiel Leiter, previously a senior adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his time in the Knesset, and to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his time as Finance Minister, who helped get Paraguay’s Cartes elected.

The American-born Leiter, a member of Israel’s governing Likud party, has held many government positions in Israel, most recently as chairman of the Ports and Railways Authority, the Jerusalem Post reported. He has also found “the time to earn several academic degrees in a variety of subjects, publish several books and father eight children.”

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In addition to Leiter, Major-General (Reserves) Meir Khalifi, who was Netanyahu’s military aide-de-campe, is the new Paraguayan president’s adviser on security matters. Additionally, Cartes’s bodyguards are all Israeli, of course.

Paraguay’s friendship with Israel extents to recognizing the sensitivities involved in choosing the right location for its embassy. While Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, because the Palestinian Authority claims it as their own, most diplomatic missions seeking a presence in Israel open up shop in uncontested Tel Aviv, but “Paraguay in the past settled upon an interesting compromise,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

“Rather than move to Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan or Herzliya Pituah, the country had its embassy in Mevaseret Zion – which is technically outside of Jerusalem, but still within its 02 telephone area code,” the Jerusalem Post noted.

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