Israel's Ambassador to Venezuela Shlomo Cohen has begun preparing for a swift departure from the country Tuesday after President Hugo Chavez declared he was a persona non grata because of Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.
"This is the first time I'm being dismissed," Cohen told Ynet on Wednesday. "We're getting the paperwork together and preparing to close down the embassy as quickly as possible. We don't have much time to waste, since the government has ordered us to leave the country within 72 hours.
"I don't remember anything like it. This is a new low in the relations between the countries," he lamented.
A telegram sent by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to the Israeli embassy in Caracas informed the Israeli diplomats that the country has decided to expel the mission in light of the situation in Gaza, which President Hugo Chavez characterized as "genocide."
In a speech delivered by Chavez later in the day he declared that the presidents of Israel and the United States should be tried for war crimes in an international court.
Shortly after receiving the telegram and updating the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the diplomatic crisis, Cohen started packing. "Since yesterday I've been receiving many calls from friends of Israel here, expressing their sympathy and support in light of the president's decision," he said.
According to Cohen, the possibility that the government may decide to expel the mission was recently discussed in view of the president's conduct during the Second Lebanon War.
"During the Second Lebanon War I was summoned for consultations and Chavez threatened to sever the ties with Israel, but didn't follow through with the threat. This time he did.
"I estimated that something like this could happen. After all, he is an ally of Iran who maintains very close relations with the government in Tehran," Cohen explained.
Cohen believes that the decision to shut down the Israeli embassy was made solely by Chavez. "Although the parliament lauded the decision and supported it, it's clear to everyone that he is the only one making the decisions. He regularly supports radical states and organizations, and his door is closed to us.
"Even if the media in Venezuela understands why we embarked on the Gaza operation, the regime is simply uninterested. It supports one side and that's that."
Turning his attention to future ties between the two countries, Cohen said: "I hope the economic and cultural ties continue despite the crisis, and I'm hopeful that one day the friendship that characterized the ties in the past will return. I no longer believe I will be back here as an ambassador; after all, I was declared a persona non grate. Perhaps I shall return in the future as a tourist."
Meanwhile, officials at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem are mulling the possibility of explling Venezuela's diplomatic staff in response to the dismissal of Israel's ambassador to Venezuela. Senior officials estimate that Israel is left with no other in the wake of Venezuela's harsh move.