El Salvador recalled its ambassador to Israel on Wednesday, making it the fifth Latin American country to do so in protest against Israel’s escalating military operation in the Gaza Strip.
On July 18, Ecuador recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv, citing the “gravity of the situation” in Gaza. Brazil, Chile, Peru and El Salvador have all since followed suit.
The stated objective of the Israeli military initiative in Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, is to target points of support for the Hamas militant group. Since the ground operation began on July 17, it has resulted in the death of more than 1,250 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry. On Israel’s side, 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed its disappointment with the countries that have recalled their ambassadors, saying the decision “constitutes support for Hamas.”
Recalling an ambassador is typically a diplomatic action used to state a government’s disapproval or protest a situation. The countries that have sent for their envoys have all issued statements expressing their opposition to Israel’s military operations in Gaza, with many calling it a disproportionate response to ongoing Hamas rocket fire aimed at Israel.
In its official statement on July 29, Chile’s foreign ministry wrote that the government “notes with great concern and dismay that such military operations — which at this stage of development are subject to a collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza — do not respect fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.” The statement also criticized Hamas’ practice of firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel, but stated it was “indispensable” that any defensive response be proportionate.
Chile is home to one of the world’s largest Palestinian communities outside the Middle East.
Of all the Latin American countries to recall ambassadors thus far, Brazil has received the harshest response from Israel. On July 23, Brazil’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it was recalling its ambassador, Henrique Sardinha, and condemned Israel’s “disproportionate reaction” in causing the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Gaza.
Though Brazil was not the first country to recall an envoy, Israel reacted particularly strongly to the decision. In an interview with Brazilian news program Jornal Nacional, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor referenced Brazil’s stinging World Cup defeat against Germany, saying, “Israel’s response is perfectly proportioned in accordance with international law. This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it’s disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law.”
In another statement to the Jerusalem Post, Palmor went even farther, calling the decision “an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf.”
Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, tried to put out the fire by calling a press conference in which he repeatedly described the relationship between Brazil and Israel as “friendly” and referred to the incident as little more than a diplomatic spat. However, Brazilian media and society seized upon the perceived slights, which filled newspaper headlines and social media for days afterward.
Brazil is viewed as a diplomatic leader in the region, and many analysts expect that even more countries will follow its lead in recalling their ambassadors. Some have suggested that President Dilma Rousseff may use this week’s Mercosur summit in Caracas to encourage other countries, including Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, to take similar action.
Some countries, however, have no ambassador to recall. Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela currently have no diplomatic relations with Israel, while Nicaragua has suspended its diplomatic relations but has not cut them off them entirely.