WikiLeaks cables dating between 2006 and 2009 detail the “souring” of Colombia’s relationship with Israel over the poor return on business deals with an Israeli defense firm.
Current president and then-Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos initially invited the intel support and technical assistance from his “personal acquaintance,” the retired Major General Yisrael Ziv, and his defense contracting company Global Comprehensive Security Transformation (Global CST), according to a WikiLeaks cable dated July 11, 2008.
The Colombian government at the time sought assistance in the pursuit of High-Value-Targets, with which top military personnel within the Colombian forces had previously expressed their “significant frustration” at the lack of results. In addition, the government wanted assessment and advice about the ongoing internal conflict with the FARC.
Under Santos’ stewardship of the defense ministry, which continued until 2009, Colombia supplemented this technical support with material arms purchases from Israel to the extent that around 38% (an estimated value of $333 million) of Colombia’s foreign defense purchases went to Israel in 2007.
Yet a cable from December 1, 2009, notes that Santos’ successor as defense minister, Gabriel Silva, was “souring on the Defense Ministry’s relationship with Israel,” according to National Police Director Oscar Naranjo.
Naranjo is quoted as labelling Colombia’s dealings with Yisrael Ziv and Global CST a “disaster,” with the police director having no hesitation in notifying the Panamanian and Peruvian authorities about the deteriorated relationship at the same time that Ziv sought “to make inroads” into those countries.
Although other Colombian government officials more diplomatically described the experience with the Israeli firm as “mixed,” Gabriel Silva significantly overruled then-Army Commander Freddy Padilla’s attempted acquisition of further military arsenal from Israel, in what is described as a demonstration of the “growing dissatisfaction” with the Israelis.
The troubled relations with the Israeli firm were amplified by the fact that government officials found it difficult to work with a private company on issues of national security due to the highly-classified status of certain U.S. intelligence that they could not share.
The nadir of the relationship appears to have been in February 2008, when national police reported that Argentine-born Israeli Shai Killman, a Global CST interpreter, copied classified Colombian documents surrounding military targets and attempted to sell them to the FARC. This attempt was ultimately prevented by Ziv and Killman was subsequently sent back to Israel.
Relations between the the governments of Israel and Colombia are currently healthy, with Santos recently stating unequivocally that Colombia will not recognize a Palestinian state without Israeli agreement. The Colombian government is also seeking the extradition of Yair Klein, an Israeli national sentenced in absentia for training paramilitaries in Colombia.