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Is Israel right to slam Brazil's decision to allow Iran warships to dock?

March 3, 2023 at 2:14 pm

The two Iranian war ships dock in Rio de Janeiro, February 2023 [Graan Barros]

In a sharply worded statement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticised Brazil’s decision to allow Iris Makran and Iris Dena, two Iranian warships, to dock in Rio de Janeiro between 26 February and 4 March. Israel warned Brazil that it was a dangerous step, describing the vessels’ presence as “a regretful development” and asked the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to send them away.

Lior Haiat, spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, took to Twitter to say: “Those ships were specifically designated by the United States only a few weeks ago, and they are part of the Iranian Navy.” Calling on Brazil not to allow the vessels to dock, he continued: “It is still not too late to order the ships to leave the port.”

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“Brazil should not grant any prize to a malign state, responsible for numerous violations of Human Rights against its own citizens, executing terror attacks all over the world and proliferating weaponry to terrorist organizations all over the Middle East,” he added.

Earlier, A Brazilian newspaper said that the presence of the Iranian warships may irk the United States and cause tensions between Brazil and Washington at a time when the US is seeking to build closer ties with the Lula administration.

US President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Washington, DC, February 10, 2023 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

US President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Washington, DC, February 10, 2023 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Lula, who came to office in January, had succumbed to US pressure and declined Iran’s request for the ships to dock in Rio in late January ahead of his visit to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden. However, with Lula’s trip to the US now over, the ships have been allowed to dock.

In a 15 February press conference, the American Ambassador to Brazil, Elizabeth Bagley, appealed to the Brazilian government not to allow the two Iranian warships to dock in the port of Rio. “These ships have, in the past, facilitated illicit trade and terrorist activities. Brazil is a sovereign country, but we strongly believe that these ships should not dock anywhere. So far, there is no other country in the hemisphere that has authorized it,” said Bagley.

On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz called for the imposition of sanctions on Brasilia, calling it “a direct threat to the safety and security of Americans.”

“The Biden administration is obligated to impose relevant sanctions, re-evaluate Brazil’s cooperation with US antiterrorism efforts, and re-examine whether Brazil is maintaining effective antiterrorism measures at its ports,” he added.

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According to Brazilian political analyst, Marcos Tenorio, the US request is inappropriate and interferes with Brazil’s internal affairs. “I think Brazil exercised its sovereignty over its territorial sea and ports. The United States´ request for Brazil to send the Islamic Navy away was an improper interference in its internal affairs.”

Tenorio tells MEMO: “The statements of Israel’s Foreign Ministry are also totally based on false allegations. The presence of Iranian ships at Brazilian ports does not pose any danger to the country. The ships are on a peace mission with the purpose of celebrating the friendship between Brazil and Iran, one of the longest lasting among all bilateral relations in Brazil.”

“President Lula is a very skilled politician with extensive experience in mediating conflicts and disputes between opposing sides. From my point of view, President Lula wanted to send the message that the Brazilian government has changed and acts according to the country’s global and regional strategic interests. It is Brazil that dictates what its foreign policy and relations with other sovereign nations will be,” Tenorio adds.

The good relationship between Iran and Lula is not new. Diplomacy with Iran was one of the highlights of Lula’s attempts to bolster Brazil’s international standing during his previous presidential terms. In 2010, he travelled to Tehran to meet then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he sought to broker a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States.

“The visit of the two Iranian ships to Brazil is part of the celebrations of 120 years of diplomatic and commercial relations between the two countries,” Tenorio explains.

READ: Israel urges Brazil to undock Iranian warships

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.