JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel closed its embassy in Paraguay following an announcement by the South American country that it was relocating its embassy back to Tel Aviv four months after moving to Jerusalem.
The move comes as Paraguay joins the effort to bring peace to the Middle East.
“Paraguay wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni told reporters on Wednesday.
Shortly after the announcement of the return to Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled his country’s ambassador to Paraguay and then ordered the Israeli embassy closed. Netanyahu also holds the foreign minister’s portfolio.
“Israel views with great severity the unusual decision of Paraguay, which will cloud bilateral relations,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Paraguay opened its new embassy in Jerusalem in May, a week after the United States moved its embassy to the capital from Tel Aviv and days after Guatemala. A previous embassy in a Jerusalem suburb was closed in 2012 in retaliation for Israel shuttering its diplomatic mission in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion as part of a round of budget cuts. A new Paraguayan embassy opened a year later near Tel Aviv.
Then-president Horacio Cartes, who left office in mid-August when the government of Mario Abdo Benitez took over, announced in late April during an event in Asuncion marking Israel’s 70th Independence Day that he planned to move the embassy before the end of his term. It is not known if Cartes consulted with Benítez before announcing the move.