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Once again, Brazil appeals for Israel’s help to tackle a crisis

January 20, 2021 at 1:51 pm

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, on 28 December 2018 [LEO CORREA/AFP/Getty Images]

Once again, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made his country seem weak in front of Israel by seeking help from the occupation state to tackle a national crisis, on this occasion the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the plaudits that Israel is receiving about its vaccination programme (which ignores the Palestinians whose lives it controls through its occupation), the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has faced domestic criticism for its handling of the crisis.

Nevertheless, Brazil has a shortage of oxygen cylinders in Amazonas State, so Bolsonaro has asked the Israeli ambassador for assistance. Speaking to Jovem Pan Radio on 15 January, the Brazilian president said, “I asked Yossi Shelley for help. We need emergency resources to combat Covid-19, such as oxygen cylinders; we are having difficulties providing them.”

Manaus is the capital of Amazonas, and its hospitals are at breaking point, with no more beds or oxygen to treat patients. The company that produces oxygen cylinders is unable to meet the demand during the pandemic.

Amazonas suffered heavy losses in the first Covid-19 wave and is being badly hit by new infections. Local Health Secretary Marcellus Campelo has said that the state needs three times the amount of oxygen it can produce locally and appealed for help. Brazil is facing a severe health and political crisis nationally during the pandemic, with more than 211,000 virus deaths, the second-highest tally in the world, behind the US.

Bolsonaro‘s government has also asked America for oxygen to go to Amazonas. A request was sent to the US Embassy on 14 January. The embassy has acknowledged that it received the request and is “in contact with the Brazilian authorities.” The Brazilian president asked Chile and other right-wing governments aligned with him as well. So far, nothing has materialised as a result of his requests.

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The former Minister of Health and current Federal Deputy Alexandre Padilha told me that with the far-right club getting smaller and Trump’s defeat, as well as internal problems, Bolsonaro is becoming more isolated. “Trump helped him with chloroquine medicine that was not good for Americans. India’s Narendra Modi denied him access to vaccines. He is isolated in South America now, and only the far right in Israel remains for him.”

This is not the first time that Bolsonaro has sought help for Israel’s apparently new best friend. In early 2019, the Israeli government sent 130 soldiers to help in the aftermath of a dam breach and flooding in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais State. The Israel Defence Forces search and rescue team was deployed to assist in the search for hundreds of people missing after the catastrophic collapse of the dam. The Brazilian commander of the rescue efforts, Lieutenant-Colonel Eduardo Ângelo, told journalists that the equipment brought from Israel to Brumadinho was not effective in that kind of disaster, causing some diplomatic embarrassment.

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At the time, former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim remarked: “Well, I can’t speculate about Israel’s goal, but I think it wanted to make its presence felt here in Brazil. They started to show their special friendship, maybe with the military because the army was involved in reinforcing the dam. Maybe these military people entered Brazil with intelligence objectives. I can’t say exactly what their goals were because I don’t know. I can only say that their help was useless.”

If previous “help” from Israel was “useless”, why does Bolsonaro insist on making Brazil appear to be a weak country in front of the Israelis?

“Brazil is not a weak country, whether from Bolsonaro’s point of view, Israel’s convictions, America’s opinion or that of all the countries on the continent,” insisted journalist and political activist Victorios Shams. “It has a history that refutes any claim that it is weak.”

Shams told me that the reason for Bolsonaro’s support for Israel is well known. “It’s to place himself alongside US policies and to gain the confidence of global imperialism, hoping to keep him in his position.”

From a collapsing dam and flooding to wildfires and other crises, Bolsonaro has been quick to ask for support from one of his closest allies, Netanyahu. However, it seems that he learnt nothing from the fact that Israel’s help was “useless” in Brumadinho and the Amazon fires last year.

So why does he turn to Israel whenever he faces a crisis? “If Israel is happy with him,” explained Shams, “then Bolsonaro believes that the US will turn a blind eye to his crimes.”

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