Culture Minister Miri Regev this week became the first serving Israeli minister to visit Cuba since 1973, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
Although Regev’s trip was private, without any connection to her official duties, it was the first time a senior official has gone in any capacity to Cuba, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, since Fidel Castro severed ties on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.
Regev notified the Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat about the trip, as required by protocol, but divulged no details other than that it was to visit family.
Rafi Eitan told Haaretz that he visited the island nation in April 2006, before being sworn in but after being designated minister for pensioners’ affairs in Ehud Olmert’s government. Eitan went there as a private businessman. After entering his ministerial post, though, he did not return to Cuba, at the request of a Cuban official who felt it would be inappropriate.
Cuba voted against against the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, but then recognized Israel and formed diplomatic ties in 1949. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Israel had a small diplomatic delegation in Havana.
But the Castro regime turned hostile after the 1967 war, and severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973, and sent soldiers to fight with the Syrians against Israel.
The Cuban government became an outspoken supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Yasser Arafat was welcomed in Havana on several occasions.
Beginning in 1992, Israel was one of the few governments to consistently vote with the U.S. against U.N. resolutions criticizing the U.S. for its embargo on Cuba.
When the U.S. renewed its diplomatic ties with Cuba in July 2015, deliberations ensued in the Israeli Foreign Ministry about doing the same, but no action was taken. This was due reportedly to opposition from Republican politicians who are pro-Israel and have taken a critical view of warming relations with Cuba as long as the dictatorship remains in place.