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Spring 2020

Between Three Circles

Brazil's Middle East Policy from Collor to Bolonsaro.
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elations between Brazil and the Middle East have historically been warm; despite the distance between the two, human bonds have prevailed over the constraints of geographic location and peripheral position in the international system. Since the nineteenth century, Brazil has been home to a vibrant and diverse population of Maronite and Orthodox Christians, Jews, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, and Druze, among other migrant groups. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (also known as Itamaraty) claims that there are about 12 million ethnic Arabs and some 120,000 Jews living in Brazil, from Morocco and the Ottoman provinces of Palestine, Syria, and most notably Lebanon. Brazil claims to be one of the few places in the world where Arabs and Jews live side-by-side in harmony.

Brazil’s ambitions as a regional power have long been the impetus for the country’s interest in Middle Eastern affairs. In the first decades of the Cold War, successive administrations staked claims in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1947, as President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha oversaw the vote for UN Resolution 181, calling for the partition of Palestine. A decade later, Brazil sent troops to the United Nations Emergency Force, established to help resolve the Suez Crisis. In 1967, Brazil co-sponsored the UN Security Council Resolution 242—which still serves as the framework for the Israel-Palestine two-state solution.

The 1973 oil crisis forced Brazil, who was greatly dependent on foreign oil, to abandon its hitherto “equidistant” approach, and to take sides with Arab interests. In the following years, Brazil’s military regime recognized Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the interests of the Palestinian people; Brazil also voted in support of UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975, which determined Zionism to be “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Around the same time, Brazil began to develop close trade and military ties with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Over the course of the next decade and a half, Iraq was to become a major oil supplier to Brazil, as well as a key market for the latter’s civil construction, military technology, and foods industries—a strategy tested by the outbreak of the Gulf War, in 1991.

When the Cold War ended, Brazil identified an opportunity for a re-assessment of its Middle Eastern relations. It could no longer count on traditional partners like Iraq and Libya, ostracized from the international community, respectively, after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988. In this context, the launching of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the 1991 Madrid Conference—the price for the grand alliance of the United States and the Gulf States against Saddam Hussein—opened new paths for international engagement.

Since then, Brazil’s strategy for the Middle East has been based on a logic of “concentric circles.” In the innermost circle lies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Brazil’s most sensitive political concern in the region. The next circle encompasses the Arab world, linked to Brazil by way of the diversified trade relationship between the two regions. The outer circle contains Turkey and Iran—the non-Arab Muslim powers whom Brazil sought to engage with as its global ambitions grew. Underpinned by this understanding, and drawing on contemporary scholarship and primary sources, this essay presents an overview of Brazil’s relationship with the Middle East, from the end of the Cold War to the present day.

A new strategy for a whole new world order: from Collor de Mello (1990-1992) to Cardoso (1995-2002)

Fernando Collor de Mello was elected president of Brazil, in late 1989, on the promise to take Brazil to the “First world.” One key strategy was repairing relations with the United States, which had become strained in the two previous decades. Collor de Mello refused to send Brazilian troops to participate in the United States’s Gulf War alliance; however, his administration curbed the sale of defense materials and technology to Iraq, and co-sponsored UN General Assembly 46/86 Resolution in 1991, which revoked the infamous “Zionism equals racism” resolution of 1975.

Brazil maintained its even-handed relationship with the Middle East after Collor de Mello’s impeachment in September 1992. Thanks to its balanced proximity to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Brazil was the only Latin American country invited to witness the signing of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty in 1994. Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, also attended the first Middle East North Africa Economic Summit, which took place the same year in Morocco. Even if the region was not a priority for Brazil, active engagement with the reinvigorated peace process seemed like a useful asset for a middle-ranking world power.

It was in much the same spirit that Fernando Henrique Cardoso, elected president in late 1994, sent his foreign minister, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, on an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in August that year. Lampreia was accompanied by a delegation of Brazilian businesspeople, part of a drive to launch “a new era of cooperation and understanding” between the regions—to include trade, technology, and diplomatic cooperation. Three years later, Yasser Arafat’s trip to Brasília, as president of the Palestinian National Authority, reinforced Brazil’s role as an “even-handed” partner in South America. However, the distinct absence of reciprocal enthusiasm left Brazil largely outside the peace process loop, up until the onset of the Second Intifada in 2000 brought it down to the ground.

Brazil’s relations with its other Middle Eastern circles evolved slowly during the first post-Cold War decade. Cardoso paid special attention to Lebanon, slowly regrouping after a long civil war. As home to the world’s largest Lebanese diaspora, Brazil discerned a role in the country’s reconciliation and reconstruction process. This interest was mutual: Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri visited Brasília in 1995, and Lampreia was the first foreign minister of Brazil to visit Beirut, in 1997. Trade with other Arab countries also became part of Brazil’s Middle East strategy, aided by diaspora institutions like the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce.

In the outer circle, Iran and Turkey similarly gained prominence in Brazil’s wider Middle Eastern strategy. As its lengthy relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq collapsed, Brazil sought to substitute it with stronger trading and cooperation with Tehran. During the Collor de Mello administration, Iran became Brazil’s largest oil supplier; the two countries enjoyed a brief period of intense activity in the civil construction area. Ankara’s rise to prominence occurred during the Cardoso presidency. Framing Brazil and Turkey as developing nations with shared and mutual aspirations, the Brazilian president hosted his Turkish counterpart, Süleyman Demirel, in Brasília in 1995, and Turkey’s foreign minister Ysmail Cem, a few years later. Several bilateral agreements ensued, including the First Brazil-Turkey Consultation Meeting, which took place in 1997.

High profile, high stakes, many contradictions: Lula’s Middle East policy (2003-2010)

The Middle East had a special place in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration. Touting a “proud and active” foreign policy, Lula and his foreign minister Celso Amorim sought to position Brazil as an emerging global power. “South-South” cooperation was elevated to whole new level, buttressed by intense presidential diplomacy, which led to the establishment of coalitions like IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) for trilateral cooperation for development, and the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) to push for reforms of global governance structures, such as the International Monetary Fund. Brazil even appointed, not quite a year into Lula’s reign, a Special Envoy to the Middle East.

Lula’s Middle East strategy had two main features. First, Brazil wanted to boost relations with countries like Syria, Libya, and Iran, potential key partners in a rapidly-changing region. Second, the Lula administration aspired to having a greater say in long-standing regional conflicts. President Lula repeatedly expressed, in word and deed, the desire to help re-start the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process—including a trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah in March 2010. In May the same year, Lula and Amorim visited Iran, to broker, together with Turkey an ambitious nuclear deal. They saw Brazil as a country with fresh ideas, well-positioned to hold dialogue with everyone, thanks to Brazil’s pluralistic background and because it was a developing nation.

The Arab segment of Brazil’s “concentric circles” policy gained prominence at this time, the region providing increasing trading and political opportunities for Brazil, for example the much-desired permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. It was no surprise that Brazil was one of the few countries outside Europe and the Middle East to openly criticize U.S. president George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in early 2003. Later that year, Lula visited Syria, Lebanon, UAE, Egypt, and Libya, a conscious diplomatic drive to assert Brazil’s growing interest in the region. During this diplomatic charm offensive, Brazil was granted Observer member status of the Arab League; equally significantly, it laid the foundations for 2005’s inaugural Summit of South America–Arab Countries (known by its Portuguese/Spanish acronym, ASPA), hosted by Brazil with 34 heads of state in attendance.

Trade was a crucial component of the Brazil-Arab world relationship during the Lula era. Exports to Arab Gulf countries jumped from $1.4 billion to $6.3 billion between 2002 and 2010 (jumping from $1.4 to $6.3 billion), and imports increased four-fold (from $0.7 billion to $2.7 billion) in the same period. Trade figures with the wider Arab League were equally impressive: exports from Brazil to the region rose from $2.6 to $12.6 billion between 2002 and 2010, imports increasing along similar lines, $2.7 to $7 billion.

But the inner circle traveled much in the opposite direction, the relationship between Brazil and Israel sliding from hope to despair under Lula. True, trade increased significantly, stimulated by the 2007 Mercosur-Israel Free Trade Agreement; but diplomatic relations between the two countries were impacted, negatively, by Brazil’s openly pro-Palestinian position. Lula’s stance reflected Brazil’s diplomatic ambitions as an emerging power; but, perhaps more significantly, it was underscored by the traditional positions held by his Workers’ Party—in favor of stronger South-South ties, and the self-determination of oppressed peoples across the world.

Over the course of Lula’s second term as president, between 2006 and 2010, foreign minister Celso Amorim visited the Palestinian territories four times—including one visit during the 2009 Gaza War. Furthermore, Brazil was invited to participate in the Annapolis Conference of 2007, and the International Conference at Sharm-al-Sheikh two years later—the first convened to present the United States’ “Roadmap for Peace,” the latter to co-ordinate an international plan of action in support of the Palestinian economy and the reconstruction of Gaza. Brazil’s strengthening rapprochement with Palestine and Iran, unsurprisingly, was not welcomed by Israel. Lula’s visit to Israel, in March 2010, was somewhat tumultuous. When the Brazilian delegation declined to lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl—claiming time constraints—Israel’s foreign minster Avigdor Liberman and his nationalist Israel Beitenu party retaliated by boycotting the Brazilian president’s address to the Israeli parliament.

But Lula had the last laugh. His last diplomatic act before leaving office in December 2010 was to recognize the sovereignty of the State of Palestine, along the 1967 borders—a decision seconded by ten Latin American governments. Later that month, the South American trade bloc Mercosur (Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay-Paraguay) and the Palestinian Authority signed a framework agreement paving the way for a Free Trade Agreement between the two territories. As at the time of writing, however, this remains dormant.

The outer of Brazil’s concentric circles of diplomatic influence gives some context to the fractious relationship with Israel. By 2005, Brazilian exports to Iran had reached $1 billion; political ties between the two countries flourished as well, culminating with a state visit by Iran’s President Ahmedinajad to Brasilia in in 2009. Strategic interests, undeniably, informed the developing relationship between the two countries. Brazilian diplomatic support was an invaluable prop for Iran, at a time of escalating tensions with the West and Israel. Brazilians hoped that the so-called “Persian gamble” would be the conduit for unprecedented political opportunities in the Middle East.

Brazil was enthusiastic for three reasons. First, the nuclear deal seemed like Lula’s chance to take Brazil to the diplomatic big league and, to some of his supporters at home, to promote him as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate. Second, but no less important, many in the military saw Brazil’s defense of Iran as a form of self-defense against the possibility of future sanctions if the world turned against Brazil over water or natural resources, a scenario feared by some nationalist groups. According to this view, the international community could use sanctions as a means to weaken Brazil, a uranium-enriching power on its own, using its nuclear capacity as a pretext. As a consequence, Brazil should protect every country’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and no government should be sanctioned for standing up for a sovereign right. Third, the Brazilian government has celebrated the ‘victory of diplomacy over sanctions,’ although the agreement was hollowed out following a new round of U.S.-led sanctions at the Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton then dismissed the bilateral efforts by accusing Tehran of buying time at the expense of Brazil and Turkey’s diplomatic goodwill.

Finally, the nuclear fuel swap deal also highlighted the promising alliance between Brazil and Turkey. Following a series of bilateral visits, which included Lula’s trip to Ankara in 2009 and Erdogan’s 2010 Brazil tour, both countries have deepened cooperation in areas such as defense, technology, and cultural promotion. Trade has also skyrocketed, as exports to Turkey grew by an average 27.6% a year between 2003 and 2010, and imports rose by 36.3% in the same period.

Trapped between the “Arab Spring” and global recession: Dilma Rousseff’s diplomatic shutdown (2011-2016)

When Rousseff came to power in January 2011 as Lula’s handpicked successor and protégé, it seemed that she would maintain the same guidelines that had driven Lula’s Middle East policies—aside from Iran, whom she had repeatedly criticized during her presidential campaign, on account of its human rights violations.

With the outbreak of the “Arab Spring” however, Brazil was obliged to change course. In the face of the political turmoil sweeping across the Arab world, Rousseff decided to draw Brazil back from its previous prominent role in the region. And with Libya and Syria, its former preferential trade and investment partners, torn apart by civil war, Brazil also had to rethink its economic strategy.

Rousseff’s rebooted Middle East policy had three key components. One was the replacement of Lula’s bilateral approach to Middle Eastern conflicts with a UN-anchored alternative. The most important expression of this new approach was the 2011 launch of the Responsibility while Protecting (RwP) doctrine. With this, Brazil sought to curb the selective intervention by Western powers in the affairs of sovereign nations, after NATO’s controversial operation in Libya. One example of this new multilateral approach was Brazil’s decision to assume leadership of the Maritime Task Force of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as of February 2011.

This change also had an impact on the inner circle. Rather than positioning itself as a potential mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Rousseff administration now pressed the UN Security Council to take a more active role in establishing the parameters for reestablishing talks between the two parties. Brazil also supported Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for UN recognition, voting in favor of both Palestine’s admission to UNESCO and the upgrade of its observer member status of the UN.

Trade was the second key component of Rousseff’s revamped approach. In the meantime, the Gulf countries had secured preeminence in the intermediate circle. After 2011, even as trade flows in the region plummeted, following the political turmoil of the Arab Spring and successive rounds of sanctions against Iran, they grew considerably between Brazil and the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, jumping from $9.1 billion in 2010 to $13.2 billion in 2014. Brazil also started to look toward developing trading ties with North Africa, exploring investment facilitation agreements with Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Third, and finally, Rousseff’s Middle Eastern approach required the cessation of Brazil’s rhetorical positioning of itself as an emerging global power. This climbdown became evident in the wake of the economic slowdown of 2013—accompanied by massive protests, weakening the president’s political influence. Partly due to this, the promising alliance between Brazil and Turkey was allowed to drift in the succeeding years. Trilateral initiatives such as India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA), attempts at mediation in the Syrian civil war, and technological cooperation initiatives with Palestine were all left by the wayside.

The Middle East was caught up in what became known as Rousseff’s “diplomatic shutdown”: a sharp reduction of presidential visits abroad, drastic cuts to the Foreign Ministry’s budget, delays to massive civil construction, mining and oil projects. Operation Car Wash, a wide-ranging graft probe commenced in mid-2014, also contributed to the dire situation faced by Brazil’s business community; several businesspeople and politicians were arraigned on corruption charges, and some were convicted, all this casting a pall over trade ties with the Middle East.

Despite Rousseff’s efforts to place Middle Eastern affairs on the back burner, one of Brazil’s most significant diplomatic crises of the era came from the region. Following Israel’s attacks on Gaza during 2014’s Operation Cast Lead, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué condemning Israel’s actions as “disproportionate,” and withdrew its ambassador for “consultations.” In a rather undiplomatic response, an Israeli spokesman belittled Brazil as a “diplomatic dwarf,” a provocation received badly by Brazilian officials, and public opinion in general.

One can hypothesize that this unexpected quarrel between Brazil and Israel stemmed, at least in part, from Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s desire to halt growing Palestinian diplomatic leverage in Latin America—mostly influenced by Lula’s recognition of Palestine in late 2010. Netanyahu escalated tensions further by appointing Dani Dayan, a former leader of the settlement movement, as the new ambassador to Brazil. Announced on social network channels and without the customary consultation between the countries, Rousseff interpreted Netanyahu’s act as willfully provocative. Israel, after all, would know full well that whether through the ruling Workers’ Party ideological leanings, or Itamaraty’s adamant commitment to international law, Brazil could not accept the appointment of a settler as the Israeli ambassador.

The row went on for several months, pitting Evangelical Christian leaders—most hitherto uneasy supporters of the government—against the Rousseff administration. Even though Netanyahu’s strategy of courting Evangelicals had already been put into action in North America, this was entirely unprecedented in the context of a major Latin American partner.

But despite pressure from Evangelical groups—as well as prominent members of the Jewish community, and even some sectors of the Brazilian Air Force—Rousseff doubled down and refused to budge over Dayan, eventually forcing Israel to back off. Celso Amorim, who had served as her defense minister until 2014, even declared that it was about time the Brazilian military became less dependent on Israeli technology and avionics—somewhat ironic, since he had been responsible for increasing defense ties with Israel to begin with. But her firmness notwithstanding, the episode weakened Rousseff further at a crucial time, the eve of her impeachment proceedings in late 2015.

A Lebanese in charge of Brazil’s Mideast policy: Michel Temer’s interregnum (2016-2018)

Following Rousseff’s controversial impeachment in April 2016, Michel Temer came to power as acting president. An experienced politician from a Lebanese Maronite background, Temer had often been the public face of the Rousseff administration’s diplomatic strategy. His Middle Eastern roots made him a natural interlocutor with Arab countries; In 2013, during a ceremony honoring Temer on Brazil’s Arab Day, the Palestinian ambassador declared that, thanks to Temer, relations between Brazil and the Arab world were at an all time peak.

Temer, who enjoyed solid parliamentary support after most lawmakers broke with Rousseff and paved the way for her impeachment, promised bold changes regarding Brazil’s international standing. Willing to do away with the Workers’ Party diplomatic legacy, he appointed José Serra, one of Rousseff’s staunchest opponents in Congress, as Foreign Minister. He also made overtures to the Evangelical leaders to bolster his political base. One, the head of the Brazilian Republican Party—affiliated with Brazil’s giant Universal Church of the Kingdom of God—was made minister for industry and foreign trade.

This new alignment was to have unintended consequences for Brazil’s Middle East policy. Despite Temer’s sympathy towards the Arab world, Serra chose to place Israel at the center of his foreign policy strategy. With an eye on his candidacy in the 2018 presidential elections, Serra reached out to Evangelical lawmakers and sectors of the Jewish community. A few weeks after taking office he repudiated Brazil’s support for the admission of the Palestinian Territorie to UNESCO, vowing to reverse the Brazilian position.

Fearing that Serra’s Israel volte-face would damage Brazil’s relations with the Arabs, Michel Temer worked to prevent Brazil from changing its traditional multilateral positions on Palestine. The unlikely tug of war between president and foreign minister put Temer in a tight spot. The president’s decision to maintain Brazil’s position with regard to UNESCO membership—followed by a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas—triggered protests by the Brazilian Israelite Confederation and Evangelical bloc in congress, the latter even submitting a motion of censure against the government.

In his second year in office, Temer reorganized—once again—Brazil’s foreign policy strategy. São Paulo senator Aloysio Nunes, replacing Serra in Itamaraty, pledged to adopt a more balanced and pragmatic approach to the Middle East. Perhaps to protect himself from being out-flanked once again, Temer also reinstituted the position of Secretary of Strategic Affairs, appointing Hussein Kalout, a Harvard researcher and Middle East specialist, to the role. Kalout was Brazil’s first top official from a Shi’a Lebanese background.

Over the course of 2018, foreign minister Nunes visited Tunisia—with whom Brazil had negotiated a bilateral Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement, as well as a free trade agreement with Mercosur—Algeria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. While the minister emphasized Brazil’s technical cooperation and humanitarian support with his Palestinian audience, the conversations with the Jordanian and Lebanese governments revolved around trade and investments. At the same time, Brazil kept the Syrian question at arm’s length, expressing concern with the unfolding civil war—but not so much concern as to prompt any diplomatic activity, at the UN or at any other multilateral institutions.

A foreign policy guided by God… and Trump: Jair Bolsonaro and the Middle East (2019-)

Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 promising to disrupt Brazil’s political system. A far-right politician whose rhetoric and style was modeled after Donald Trump’s, Bolsonaro defeated Lula’s candidate by a significant margin on a conservative, nationalist, and religious platform. Unsurprisingly, the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular, lay at the heart of Bolsonaro’s electoral strategy. The promise of closer relations with Netanyahu and, above all, the transfer of the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem were mostly aimed at pleasing Evangelical voters, who have become a major political force in Brazil. The potential benefits of an alliance with Donald Trump nudged the new Brazilian president into falling in line with Trump’s vision for the Middle East: strengthening ties with Israel, forging alliances with Sunni Muslim Gulf autocracies, antagonizing Iran.

As the 2018 presidential elections approached, Israel became Bolsonaro’s strongest link to the Evangelical community—their support for the Jewish state, perhaps ironically, linked to the Biblical prophecy of the second coming of Christ. Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem gave Bolsonaro a tangible foreign policy platform to promote in Evangelical churches across the country.

Bolsonaro’s vow to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem resonated strongly with his Evangelical base; usefully it also provided his new ally Netanyahu with a much-needed diplomatic victory, de facto recognition of Jewish sovereignty over the Holy City. Netanyahu was one of the few foreign leaders to attend the Brazilian president’s inauguration; in the wake of the Brumadinho dam disaster of early 2019, he swiftly sent support and technical assistance. Brazil has repaid Israel’s loyalty by voting for Israel (and against Palestinians) in virtually every multilateral forum ever since.

The pinnacle of this blossoming relationship, thus far, was Bolsonaro’s trip to Jerusalem shortly before Israeli national elections in April 2019. By choosing Israel as one of his first international destinations, the new Brazilian president was seeking to convey the image, to his own pro-Israel supporters, of a responsible statesman with a solid foreign agenda. Netanyahu, for his part, assumed that the announcement of the transfer of the Brazilian embassy would be his trump card in what had been a fractious and deeply unpleasant electoral campaign.

But it was not to be. Pressure from the agribusiness and military sectors, dismayed at Arab threats to boycott Brazilian halal products, pushed Bolsonaro onto a different path. In place of the much-flagged embassy announcement, he instead promised to open a trade and investment office in Jerusalem.

Back to the outer circle. Because Bolsonaro did not consider Iran a strategic priority, he fell behind the US drive to curb its ambitions. This stance may yet prove useful on more than one diplomatic front: reinforcing ties with Israel, while simultaneously pleasing Iran’s rivals in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Not incidentally, Bolsonaro visited both countries in late 2019.

In the first days of 2020, Brazil gave its unequivocal support to the controversial “targeted killing” of Iranian general Qassam Soleimani, on the orders of President Trump. While most Western governments were guarded, or even mildly critical, in their responses to Soleimani’s death, the Bolsonaro administration issued a statement reinforcing its commitment to Trump’s “global war on terror”—without a word about the legal implications of the assassination.

Conclusion

The end of the Cold War provided an unprecedented opportunity for Brazil and the Middle East to draw closer to one another. As the South America giant flourished regional power (even, for a while, aspiring to a wider role as an emerging global power of the new century), the Middle East offered avenues for trade, multilateral cooperation—and the opportunity to flex a little diplomatic muscle. Brazil’s economic clout enabled it to become a key partner of countries as diverse as Iran, Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon. In the case of the latter two, diaspora politics provided an additional pretext for greater engagement.

Brazil’s concentric circles strategy, aside from demonstrating the country’s commitment to its universalist view of international affairs, also allowed successive administrations to work constructively with a region characterized by zero-sum relations.

Two reasons explain why Brazil seems, for the moment at least, to have abandoned this all-encompassing approach. First, an extended economic downturn, coupled with domestic political turmoil, forced Brazil to look inward, particularly under Rousseff. Ambitious diplomatic initiatives were abandoned, and Brazil stopped engaging with new political challenges like the Syrian Civil War. Second, the growing power of Evangelical Christians in Brazilian politics, partially explaining Bolsonaro’s electoral triumph, dramatically changed the way Brazil relates to Israel. As a result, the enduring concentric circles have been replaced by a strategy mimicking Trump’s Mideast vision. The long-term consequences of this change are hard to predict; but it will certainly be hard for Brazilian diplomacy to find its feet once again in the rough playground that is the Middle East.

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