Stephen Harper is not the first Canadian prime minister to take an active interest in a country that is on the radar of the international community.
Brian Mulroney played a leading role in the fight against the apartheid regime of South Africa and Jean Chrétien pursued an activist agenda in Haiti and in Rwanda.
But the template that ultimately fits best the prime minister's cosy visit to Israel this week is Pierre Trudeau's rapprochement with Fidel Castro's Cuba in the 1970s.
Then, as now, personal chemistry intersected with electoral self-interest and the particular world view of a Canadian prime minister.
Canada's support for a state of Israel predates Harper. But he has greatly amplified it.
Likewise, Trudeau did not reverse Canada's course on Cuba. After the 1959 Castro-led revolution Canada had maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But under Trudeau strengthening ties with Cuba became a signature foreign policy.
As with Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the fact that Trudeau and Castro struck a friendship was part of the picture.
Trudeau was the first NATO leader to make an official visit to Cuba after the 1960 American embargo. His 1976 visit took place at a time when Cuba was in the eye of an international storm for having sent troops to fight in Angola at the behest of the Soviet Union.
As Harper tours Israel, the United States is seeking a diplomatic resolution to the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions in the face of vocal resistance from Tel Aviv.
Harper was received with royal honours this week. A bird sanctuary has been named in his honour. A stamp will be issued to commemorate his visit.
Trudeau's welcome in Cuba was no less effusive. More than 200,000 Cubans reportedly lined the streets to cheer him on.
Trudeau responded in kind. Like Harper's address to the Knesset on Monday, Trudeau had little but appreciative and supportive words for his host (although he did stop short of pledging loyalty to Cuba in the way that Harper did in the case of Israel).
All politics is local. Harper's staunch pro-Israel stance is credited with pushing ridings that are home to a strong Jewish community in the Conservative election column. It also plays well with the evangelical base of his party.
In the '70s, Trudeau's embrace of Cuba was in sync with a Canadian nationalism that craved a foreign policy independent from that of the U.S. It helped pry left-leaning voters from the NDP.
It was popular in his home-province. In 1970, Castro had played a part in bringing a resolution to the Quebec October Crisis by offering safe harbour to members of the FLQ cell that had kidnapped British diplomat James Cross in exchange for his freedom.
Harper's visit to Israel is not universally popular in Canada. Trudeau's 1976 foray in Cuba came in for even more criticism. In a chronicle of the visit historian Robert Wright notes that upon his return, "Trudeau was attacked mercilessly for cuddling up to Castro while thousands of Cuban soldiers were pouring into Angola …”
In fact, two years later Trudeau suspended his government's non-humanitarian aid to Cuba for a time over its military activities in Africa. But his friendship with Castro endured and the latter decreed a period of official mourning when the former prime minister died in 2000.
In a recent book about the Trudeau years, author Bob Plamondon argues that all that his championing of Cuba accomplished was to annoy the U.S.
What is certain is that Trudeau's overtures to Castro did not move successive American administration to normalize their relations with Cuba.
It is just as unlikely that Harper's solemn pledge of support to Israel will dissuade the White House (and the rest of the international community) from keeping to its own counsel on the Middle East. On the contrary.
Like Trudeau's Cuba initiative, Harper's visit to Israel is a defining moment in his tenure but it is far from obvious that in the larger scheme of global politics it will make a difference to anything other than to Canada's standing in the rest of the Middle East.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column is distributed by Torstar Syndication Services.