SANTIAGO, Chile — The Israeli government has suspended all sales and supplies of defense and security hardware and related services to Colombia.
The move followed a heated exchange on X, formerly known as Twitter, between Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Israeli Ambassador in Bogota Gali Dagan about the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Petro had refused to condemn the Hamas raid. When Dagan urged Petro to speak about the attack on Israel, Colombia’s president replied with a message that “terrorism is killing innocent children in Palestine” and followed up with messages in which he accused Israel of turning Gaza into a “concentration camp.”
Petro doubled down on his criticism of Israel over the weekend, describing its military campaign in Gaza as “genocide” and threatening to break off relations with the Jewish state.
“If we must suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, then that is what we will do,” he wrote on X on Sunday. “You cannot insult the president of Colombia.”
Ultimately, Israel called Colombia’s ambassador to a meeting in which she was informed that defense cooperation between the countries would be suspended, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a news release.
Colombia’s Defense Ministry did not reply to Defense News’ request for comment.
Colombia has had a close relationship with Israel, with the former having acquired military hardware and security equipment from the latter for decades. But relations chilled after Preto became president in August 2022.
Emilio Meneses, an independent security analyst based in Santiago, told Defense News the president’s “outburst of criticism against Israel, which could have been expressed in a more appropriate language and through proper diplomatic channels, is helping neither the Palestine people nor Colombia. Quite the opposite.”
Colombia has plans to acquire the Barak MX air defense system, made by Israel Aerospace Industries, to meet a requirement for protecting deployed personnel and strategic facilities.
The Colombian Air Force’s primary fighter jet and only high-performance combat aircraft is also made by IAI. The service has an estimated 24 Kfir fighters. Technical problems involving their General Electric J79 turbojet engines led to the Air Force grounding its Kfir entire fleet in 2015.
Restoring the fleet required involvement from IAI, which has historically provided extensive maintenance services, in both Colombia and Israel. In January 2023, the parties renewed the contract for these services until 2025.
The Kfir jets are also armed with weapons acquired from Israel, including the Derby BVR medium-range air-to-air missiles from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Griffin laser-guided-bombs from IAI.
And the Kfirs use Python III and Python IV all-aspect, heat-seeking, close-range air-to-air missiles, made by Rafael. Those weapons are also used for the service’s A-29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft.
The main infantry rifles in use with the Colombian military are the Israel Weapons Industries-made 5.56mm Galil automatic rifle machine gun and 7.62mm Galil sniper rifle. Since the 1980s, they were produced in Colombia under license by the state-owned concern INDUMIL, which has exported these weapons to other countries in South and Central America. Colombia has started to replace the Galil weapons with the newer Galil ACE infantry rifle, made locally by INDUMIL under license from IWI.
The Spike weapon from Rafael is the main anti-tank missile in the Colombian Army’s inventory, while the Sikorsky UH-60 Arpia IV ground-fire support helicopters from the Air Force are armed with ER, LR and NLOS versions of the same weapon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.