Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Friday in Rio de Janeiro and sealed an alliance between the two countries, although moving the embasy to Jerusalem was reportedly not on the table. Bolsonaro presented Netanyahu with the highest national decoration for visitors in Brazil, granted in the past to former US President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth.
It was the first-ever visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to Brazil. “It’s hard to believe that we had no such contacts before,” Netanyahu admitted.
Both leaders spoke of a budding brotherhood which is expected to boost economic, military, and technological cooperation.
After their meeting at a century-old military fort on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had accepted an invitation to make his own visit to Israel, on a date yet to be announced.
“I intend to visit Israel before March with a large delegation so that we can put into practice as quickly as possible this strategic partnership with the State of Israel,” Bolsonaro said.
Netanyahu is to stay on through Tuesday to join other dignitaries at Bolsonaro's inauguration in Brasilia.
The far-right, security-conscious and former Army Captain Bolsonaro was elected in October on pledges to crack down on endemic crime and corruption. He is also known as the South American Trump for his style similar to that of the President of the United States who prefers one-on-one negotiations to multilateral diplomacy.
“More than partners, we will be brothers in the future, in economy, technology, all that can bring benefit to our two countries,” said Bolsonaro, who also admitted cooperation will include military and agriculture matters.
Netanyahu, calling his visit “historic,” also spoke of “the brotherhood, the alliance” the two planned as something that “can carry us to great heights.”
Surprisingly, there was no mention of Bolsonaro’s statement that he intended to follow Trump in moving his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Such a decision could jeopardise Brazilian poultry and halal meat exports to Arab countries, which fiercely oppose any unilateral moves seen as cementing Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital. Nearly 20% of Brazil’s US $5 billion beef exports go to 17 Arab countries.
Brazil-Israel trade currently amounts to US $1.2 billion. Bolsonaro has said he eyed Israeli technology to produce drinking water for Brazil’s northeast.
Netanyahu made his Brazil trip despite a domestic political crisis that forced him to schedule early elections and military volatility in neighbouring Syria because he wanted to respond to Bolsonaro's announcements regarding Israel and the United States.
The Prime Minister is expected to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will be representing his country at the ceremony in Brasilia on January 1, to discuss Syria on the sidelines. US allies including Israel were caught by surprise by Trump’s announcement last week that he was pulling US troops out of Syria, where Iran has built up a significant military and political presence. Israel has made several aerial strikes in Syria against positions held by Iran and its Lebanese militia Hezbollah.