Israel and Chad to resume relations

Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Chad’s President Idriss Deby. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

ISRAEL has a new friend in the Muslim world, after the surprise announcement that Chad’s leader has agreed to diplomatic ties.

The leader of Chad was in Jerusalem this week, on a visit that was kept under wraps until the very last moment.

President Idriss Deby met Israel’s Prime Minister and President, and though his country, which is in north-central Africa, ceremoniously cut ties with Israel in 1972, he made it clear that he wants to patch things up.

“This is a breaking of the ice, you might say,” Deby declared when visiting the residence of his Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, on Sunday. Then, things moved at lighting speed.

By Tuesday afternoon, arrangements were being made for an Israeli delegation to visit Chad and officially restart relations.

“Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Chad soon where he and Chad President Idriss Deby will announce the resumption of diplomatic relations,” the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced.

While Chad is a small country that receives little attention in the West, experts say that rekindling relations is an important step for Israel, as it will open new doors.

“Somehow it makes it legitimate for others to talk to Israel,” Bar-Ilan University’s Professor Tsilla Hershco told The AJN, saying that particularly in Africa, countries tend to want to follow others before taking bold steps like instituting diplomatic ties.

“When one country sees that another is not scared to have photos with an Israeli Prime Minister, it has an impact.”

Hershco said that Chad’s decision is also important because it will lessen the taboo if other countries that Israel wants relations with, such as Qatar and Bahrain, agree to establish relations.

The visit by Deby comes amid other signs that Israeli diplomacy is branching out in new directions. Last month Netanyahu went to Oman, where he was hosted by the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, on what was called an “official diplomatic visit”.

His colleague Miri Regev was given the red carpet treatment in the United Arab Emirates.

Netanyahu has travelled to Africa three times, and is rumoured to be hoping to establish diplomatic ties with Sudan, now that Sudan has distanced itself from Iran.

Netanyahu told Deby that it’s time for Israel and Africa to pick up where they left off when relations disintegrated almost 50 years ago.

“Israel, in fact, was cooperating with the countries of Africa in the 1960s and early ’70s, especially in agriculture and water,” Netanyahu said. “This was discontinued and now it’s flourishing back again.”

He said that when he visits Chad, he wants to go with a large delegation.

“I wish to bring with me Israeli entrepreneurs, Israeli experts, Israeli companies, everything that can improve the life of the peoples of Africa, which is something we believe in.

“Israel is coming back to Africa, Africa is coming back to Israel.”

NATHAN JEFFAY