Israel Puzzled by Costa Rica’s Vote on U.N. Lebanon Resolution

Israel diplomats here have voiced concern about this Central American country’s decision to approve a recent U.N. vote that criticized Israel’s 16-day shelling campaign in Lebanon.

But even as the diplomats were questioning the Costa Rican vote – its first- ever condemnation of Israel in a U.N. resolution – the government of Costa Rica made the surprise revelation last week that it was purchasing $4.6 million in arms from Israel.

On April 25, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Israel’s recent attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon.

After 48 years of virtually unyielding support for Israel in the U.N., Costa Rica broke with Israel and voted to condemn the attacks.

As part of that unyielding support, Costa Rica is one of only two countries – El Salvador is the other – that have embassies in Jerusalem; the rest, unwilling to take the step of recognizing the Israeli capital, have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

“We did not expect, from a very, very friendly country, a vote in favor of this resolution, which was one-sided and against Israel,” said Israeli Embassy spokesman Yo’ed Magen.

“Taking into consideration that most Latin nations abstained, we did not expect the [Costa Rican] vote.”

The resolution, which failed to condemn Hezbollah rocked attacks on northern Israel, passed by a vote of 64-2, with 65 abstentions.

While many Israeli officials were clearly relieved by the relatively weak support the resolution garnered, there was nonetheless surprise over the Costa Rican vote.

Explaining the decision, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Rodrigo Carreras said in an interview, “Costa Rica as a peaceful and disarmed country has the obligation to condemn armed attacks, particularly against civilian populations.”

But Israeli diplomatic officials here blamed Costa Rica’s international aspirations for the vote.

They note how last year, despite personal lobbying by Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres, the Non-Aligned Movement rejected Costa Rican membership when Arab nations objected to the presence of the Costa Rican Embassy in Jerusalem.

The Non-Aligned Movement, created during the Cold War, is a grouping of less developed nations seeking to improve their economies.

One Israeli official said Costa Rica supported the U.N. resolution “because they want to become a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and they need the votes of the Arab nations.”

Carreras downplayed the significance of the vote, saying “there is no change in our friendship with Israel.”

In a reflection of that friendship, the government here announced last week a plan to purchase $4.6 million in arms form Israel, a move that set off a firestorm of debate in this peaceful country.

Reacting to the planned purchase, the Comptroller General’s Office questioned how Costa Rica, which abolished its army in 1948, was able to spend so much money on arms.

Because it lacks an army, Costa Rica claims that it spends the money it would otherwise spend on defense for education and health care, allowing it to achieve some of the highest social indicators in the developing world.

In the wake of the debate touched off by the announced arms purchase, Minister of Public Security Juan Diego Castro declared the deal a “state secret” and refused to comment on it.

But he did say the weapons would be used to “modernize” the country’s security forces in the face of increased drug trafficking and petty crime in the region.

While Israeli diplomatic officials here insist they are steering clear of the debate, one said the purchase idea was three years old and that only now has the country raised the money to pay for the arms.

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