An Israeli delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin recently joined dignitaries from around the world in celebrating the inauguration of the new president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes. (Elkin and Cartes pictured left)
These celebrations also had an important Israeli point: Cartes, a local businessman, won the presidential elections with the help of an Israeli strategic advisor who also happens to be a former advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yehiel Leiter is a Likud man, a Jewish settler, and was formerly Netanyahu's chief of staff when the Israeli leader was minister of finance. Leiter, a father of eight, also previously served as an advisor to Ariel Sharon when he was minister of infrastructure and to current Culture Minister Limor Livnat.
According to reports in Paraguay, Leiter also served as a senior official in Cartes' campaign for regime change. Cartes was not at all interested in politics until 2009. He was a businessman who was very interested in sports, and served as president of a local football (soccer) club, as well as head of the Paraguayan Football Association when the nation participated in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In 2009, Cartes joined the Colorado Party, a center-right party that had ruled Paraguay for 60 years before being ousted from power five years ago. Cartes immediately won the faction's primary elections and became the new head of the Colorado Party. Aided by a team of Israeli advisors, Cartes ascended to the presidency just four years later.
South American media reports also suggest that the new leader of Paraguay has Israeli security advisors and is guarded by Israeli bodyguards, which is not an uncommon phenomenon on the continent. The president of Panama is also protected by "Israel's finest."
Local media further embellished the story by suggesting Cartes was traveling about under the protection of a secret Mossad unit, but those reports were largely conspiratorial, and had more to do with the mythical status of the Mossad in the region.
And if all this was not enough, retired Israeli general Meir Khalifi is currently serving as a senior advisor to Paraguay's defense ministry.
In his meeting with Elkin last week, Cartes expressed his appreciation to the State of Israel and his desire to further strengthen relations between the two countries. Paraguay is expected to reopen its embassy in Israel in the coming weeks, and it was one of the few South American countries to not support Palestinian efforts to unilaterally attain statehood at the UN.