Cuba’s Diplomatic Break with Israel Causes Surprise, Regret

Israelis expressed surprise and regret today over the sudden and unexpected rupture of diplomatic relations by Cuba. Premier Fidel Castro announced the break yesterday at the conference of non-aligned nations in Algiers, but there was no official confirmation from Havana until this morning. As of last night neither the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem nor the Cuban legation here had any knowledge of Castro’s move beyond wire service reports from Algiers.

Dr. Ricardo Subirana Y Lobo, the 86-year-old Cuban-Jewish diplomat who has been Minister to Israel since 1960, said last night “I have heard nothing from Havana. Good relations have always prevailed between the two countries.” (For other reactions see P.2.)

Official sources declined to comment on the Cuban move. Political circles called Castro’s announcement an “impulsive” act that surprised even the Cuban diplomatic corps. A month ago the Israeli Minister to Havana, Baruch Gilad. presented his credentials to the Cuban government. This morning Gilad telephoned Avraham Kidron, director general of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, to report that he had received a letter from the Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister informing him of the decision to break relations with Israel.

LONG RECORD OF CORDIAL RELATIONS

The long record of cordial relations between Cuba and Israel, unbroken by the Six-Day War, added to the surprise over the break. Gabriel Doron, the former Israeli Minister to Cuba who was based in Havana from 1968-70, recalled the independent attitude demonstrated by Castro when he was pressured to break with Israel after the Six-Day War. He refused to break relations with any country that did not directly hurt Cuba’s interests and rejected the idea of breaking relations because others urged him to, Doron said.

Cuba and Rumania were the only nations in the Soviet orbit that did not sever ties with Israel after the Six-Day War. Israelis observed that Cuba, like Israel, was the target of attempts by its neighbors to isolate it diplomatically and economically. Cuba was ousted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1961. Castro must have felt the similarity of his position among the Latin American states with that of Israel and its Arab neighbors, Israelis said today. But. they added, he has a short memory.

ISRAELI AID TO CUBA RECALLED

Israelis recalled that Castro cancelled a visit to Algeria in 1963 after he was chided by the then Algerian Premier Ahmed Ben Bella for having declared three days of mourning at the death of Israel’s President Itzhak Ben Zvi. Ben Bella declared at the time: “Whoever respects a dead Israeli in that way has no right to come to an Arab land.”

It was also recalled here that Israel sent plasma and other medical supplies to Cuba and was hailed for its humanitarian act. An Israeli sports delegation arrived in Havana last night to participate in a weight-lifting contest. The delegation was received with utmost cordiality, according to a telephone report from Havana today.

Castro’s move was obviously a surrender to Arab pressure in Algiers. Israelis said. Doron told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent in Jerusalem, however, that the break was not expected to alter Cuba’s friendly attitude toward its small Jewish community.

Doron noted that less than 1000 Jews remain in Cuba out of about 14,000 who lived there before the Castro regime came to power in 1960. But, he said, they are strongly organized and there are five synagogues to serve them. He recalled that Castro was personally friendly with the Jewish community and his government always paid the expenses of a rabbi on the high holidays. Doron also noted that Cuba imported Israeli products, albeit indirectly, through European countries.

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