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A good part of Africa has been in solidarity with the Palestinians for a long time. Now, Israel and some States of that continent strengthen their ties with very specific interests in mind. The approach has its price.
In 2016, when he visited Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli head of government in many decades to travel to Africa. The good relations that the State of Israel had maintained for decades with that continent were marred by the Yom Kippur War, which took place between October 6 and 25, 1973.
After a surprise military attack by the coalition of Arab countries led by Egypt and Syria, Israeli troops entered and expanded into Egyptian territory. “Egypt accused Israel of occupying African soil. Together, the Arab States worked hard to persuade African countries to cut their ties with Israel, “explains Steve Gruzd of the South African Institute for Foreign Relations.
The insidy succeeded: in a continent with more than thirty States, only four maintained their diplomatic relations with the Israelis. And that political constellation left traces; For example, Palestinians have observer status in the African Union (AU) and Israelis do not.
On the other hand, when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, the AU lost one of its strongest anti-Israel voices. The situation seems to be changing: Netanyahu not only returned home satisfied with the sympathy with which he was received by his African counterparts last year, but has since returned to the continent twice. In June he participated in the summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The reserves of the Africans facing Israel seem to dissipate. On December 6, when the president of the United States, Donald Trump, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, only Mauritania protested angrily. “Most African politicians are very pragmatic; they are no longer guided by their ideological convictions, as they did in the past. And the support they give to the Palestinians is not as strong as it was a few years ago, “says Gruzd. The Head of State of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, welcomed Netanyahu’s visit with the following words: “We believe that we must cooperate again with Israel on a positive basis”. And, in the eyes of Africans, Israel has a lot to offer in several areas.
Collaboration in the fight against terrorism is of great interest in countries like Kenya. Media reports that Israeli experts advised Kenyan anti-terrorist troops after the attack on the Westgate shopping center in 2013. On his brief tour of Africa, Netanyahu offered more support. “Israel has always put its military support and its trainings to order. Many African elite units have been formed by Israel, “confirms Kenyan political scientist Martin Oloo. To that is added the development aid provided by the Israelis; since early December, these are involved in the US development program “Power Africa” that seeks to supply electricity to some 60 million people by the year 2030.
Many interests at stake
The possibility of accessing state-of-the-art Israeli technology applicable to agriculture also positively predisposes certain African governments. Israel, for its part, has never concealed its interest in acquiring observer status in the African Union; Netanyahu insisted on that point during his tour of the continent. In addition, according to an article published by the Times of Israel newspaper shortly before his most recent trip to Africa, the prime minister said he wants to “dismantle the giant bloc of 54 African countries that always makes possible an automatic majority against Israel in the United Nations and other international organizations. ” It remains to be seen if he succeeds; Israel will not have them easy in Africa.
African states with predominantly Muslim populations – such as Morocco, Senegal, Mauritania and Sudan, for example – continue to look at Israel with suspicion. Sudan prohibits the entry of Israeli citizens into its territory. Mauritania broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2010, in response to an Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. South Africa also assumes a critical position towards Israel due to its former closeness to the regime that imposed apartheid in that country and governed it until 1994. And the Israel-Africa summit, which should have already been held in Togo, has not been materialized yet.