Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of cooperating with "radical branches" of Islam and of anti-Semitism, according to media reports Thursday in Colombia.
"I will not speak about intelligence specifics, but we have enough to be concerned about the collaboration between radical branches of Islam and Hugo Chavez," Lieberman told the El Tiempo newspaper at the conclusion of a 10-day South American visit which included stops in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
Lieberman was responding to questions seeking evidence to support Israel's contention that Iranian-backed Hezbollah has cells in Venezuela.
An Israeli diplomat travelling with Lieberman, Dorit Shavit, made the claim in the Jewish News Agency of Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in South America.
The foreign ministry in Caracas angrily denied the claim.
"Israel was devastated by the attacks in Buenos Aires," Lieberman said, referring to the 1992 bomb attack against the Israeli embassy that killed 29 people and another attack two years later on a Jewish community center, also in the Argentine capital, that killed 85.
Iran has denied being involved, but Israel has stressed that Tehran is intent on expanding its sway in South America. Lieberman's ministry had said his trip to the region was aimed in part at countering Iran's growing influence.
"Today we see the closeness between Chavez and the Iranians, and of course we want to prevent new attacks against Israelis."
Lieberman also accused Chavez of anti-Semitism for his comments on Saturday in which he warned that the United States was converting Washington's key ally Colombia into the "Israel of Latin America" by setting up a military platform there from which to "attack" its neighbors.
Such allegations, Lieberman warned, represent "xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Israelism. It is not a new phenomenon, and it is regrettable that it exists in the 21st century after the Holocaust: terrorism against the people of Israel, and the use of such anti-Semitic language."
He also told El Espectador newspaper that the resumption of diplomatic ties - severed by Caracas in January after Israel's Gaza Strip offensive - rested in part on a Chavez apology.
Lieberman said he saw "no reason" to communicate with Chavez while he maintains "relations with Iran, with Hezbollah and with Hamas."