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| 7/27/2009 12:00:00 AM

Israel fortifies presence in Latin America

Jul 27--Until not too long ago, Latin America was a distant observer of the Middle East conflict. That's changing really fast and -- for good or for bad -- will change faster in the future.

Following three years of frantic Iranian activities in Latin America that included three trips by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the region -- a fourth visit is scheduled in August to Brazil -- and the opening or enlargement of a half-dozen Iranian embassies, Israel is beginning to raise its own profile in the region.

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is currently on a 10-day visit to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia in the first Latin American tour by an Israeli foreign minister in 23 years. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Brazil, Argentina and perhaps a third country in the region in November, in what would be the first such visit in recent memory, Israeli officials say.

In a telephone interview from Buenos Aires, where she was accompanying the Israeli foreign minister, Dorit Shavit, the head of the Israeli foreign ministry's Latin American Department, told me that Lieberman's visit is aimed at strengthening Israel's relations with the region and countering Iran's growing influence in Latin America.
 
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