RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – An unusual statement by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, in which it said it helped thwart a Hezbollah attack in Brazil, is the latest incident to strain relations between Israel and Latin America’s largest country against the backdrop of the Gaza war. .
Brazil on Wednesday arrested two people on terrorism charges as part of an operation to eliminate a suspected Hezbollah cell planning attacks on Brazilian soil. Later that day, Mossad publicly thanked the Brazilian police and said: “Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza,” Hezbollah was continuing to attack Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets.
The Mossad’s statements angered Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino, who on Thursday issued a strong rebuke to Israel, saying on social media that “Brazil is a sovereign country,” and “there are no foreign power orders around the Brazilian Federal Police.”
Dino did not explicitly deny any of the details of the Israeli statement, but he seemed angrier due to its timing, tone, and the connection it made to the current war in Gaza.
“We appreciate appropriate international cooperation, but we reject any foreign authority that deems it directing the Brazilian police services, or using our investigations to use propaganda or its own political interests,” he wrote, adding that the Brazilian investigation “has nothing to do with international politics.” Conflicts.”
A Brazilian federal police source said Dino was angry because the Mossad statement made it appear as if Brazil was taking orders from Israel and could be seen as taking sides in the war.
A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees Mossad, had no immediate comment.
Dino’s comments reflect growing concern among Brazilian officials about Israel’s behavior in the wake of the October 7 attacks by Hamas and the subsequent bombing of Gaza.
Two sources said that there are still about 30 Brazilians stranded in Gaza, weeks after the conflict began, and Brazil’s anger at Israel has increased over the slow release of them. The sources said that the Brazilian Foreign Ministry informed Israel this week that diplomatic relations would become unsustainable if any harm came to the besieged Brazilians.
Brazilian diplomats told Reuters they did not understand why Israel was so slow in releasing them, given that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva balanced criticism of Hamas attacks with calls for a ceasefire.
Later Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen informed his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira, that “unexpected closures” on the border prevented Brazilian citizens from leaving Gaza, according to the Brazilian ministry.
“Vieira assured that Brazilians and their families will be on the list of foreigners allowed to cross the border tomorrow,” the ministry said in a post on social media.
Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Colombia and Chile, took a tougher stance towards Israel, cutting ties or recalling their ambassadors.
Lula’s team was also angered when Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, during a visit to Brazil’s Congress on Wednesday, took photos sitting next to former President Jair Bolsonaro and other far-right politicians before a private meeting.
Bolsonaro, Lula’s opponent and a staunch supporter of Israel, holds no public office, has been ruled politically ineligible until 2030 and is subject to multiple criminal investigations, including one into whether he attempted a coup after losing last year’s election.
In an interview with O Globo newspaper after the federal police operation on Wednesday, Sonshine said that “if (Hezbollah) chooses Brazil, it is because it has people helping it.”
Federal Police Chief Andre Rodriguez on Thursday told local media that Sonshine’s comments were “disrespectful.”
“It was a bad surprise,” Rodriguez said. “I completely reject that.”
The Iranian government and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group in Lebanon, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reported by Gabriel Stargarter. (Additional reporting by Maytal Angel and Jonathan Saul; Preparing by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Andrew Heavens, Brad Haynes, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler
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