Israel Reinforces its Position in Africa

31.03.2016 Author: Vladimir Platov

5345345345Relations between the Jewish state and the African continent were first established in the mid-twentieth century after the countries of the African continent gained independence. Golda Meir, who proposed to assist the countries of the Dark Continent with their agricultural and public health projects, initiated the convergence in 1958.

But the Yom Kippur War put an end to this “sweet romance,” severing Israel’s ties with the Dark Continent, at least for some time. Though, there were some exceptions, for example, in the 1970s, the Israeli construction company Solel Boneh was implementing construction projects in Kenya. The first Kenyan pilots were trained in Israel, and later that country purchased military equipment, including missile boats and Gabriel anti-ship missiles form Israel.

Israeli special services, including Mossad, were actively engaged in the struggle of major powers that started on the African continent some years ago. Angola is one of the most vivid examples. During the civil war, Israel provided an active support to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), opposing the pro-Soviet the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola headed by Agostinho Neto. For example, following a request of the then leader of FNLA Holden Roberto, Israeli instructors trained members of this organization. In the 1970s, Tel Aviv shipped arms to FNLA through Zaire.

A re-convergence of Israel and Africa began in 1990s following the removal of the two core stumbling stones: Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt, and Apartheid ceased to exist in South Africa.

Today, Israel benefits not only from political, but also from economic cooperation with Africa, as the continent is blessed with abundant mineral resources. Africa leads world in manganese, metals of the platinum group, copper, uranium, oil, gas, iron and other mineral reserves.

However, Israel persistently refrains from cooperation with a number of Muslim countries of Africa. First of all they include Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sudan and Somalia.

Today, Israel eagerly interacts with other countries rapidly gaining political weight, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

But besides ripping off political and economic benefits from its cooperation with African states, Israel is also cashing in on the major strategic threat democratic African states are faced with—the threat of Sudanese fundamentalists or radical groups like the Nigerian Boko Haram, Somalian Al-Shabaab or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Take, for example, Nigeria, where the Muslims comprise 50% of the country’s population and reside mostly in the country’s north and west; the struggle against Islamic extremism is literally a matter of life and death there since Islamists are striving to take full control over several states in the country’s north and west and impose the Sharia laws. Boko Haram regularly employs suicide bombers, massacres Christian villages, takes children hostage converting them to Islam and blows up churches.

In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, only 10% of the population are Muslims. Nevertheless, this country, more than any other, is hit by the militants of Al-Shabaab, supporters of al-Qaeda, acting from the territory of Somalia.

In 2010, after the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation, specialists of Israeli military concerns Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Israel Military Industries as well as representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Defense visited the region. Nigeria bought arms, reconnaissance equipment and latest solutions for terrorist online tracking as well as anti-terrorist technologies worth of $40 ml from the Israeli high-tech company Elbit. Kenya is also considering the acquisition of counter-terrorism technologies and drones to patrol its border regions.

According to the latest information, Israel supplies arms and combat equipment worth hundreds of millions US dollars to Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Angola, Ivory Coast and Eritrea. Although. Some mass media estimates the volume of this military assistance close to a billion US dollars.

Further intertwining of North African, Nigerian and Somalian terrorist groups makes them not just local terrorists, but a factor of the global terror threat. The fact that these terrorist groups uphold Islamism as their core ideology puts Israel on the line. In this context, the interests of Israel and the African countries coincide contributing to the expansion of cooperation in the fields of security and terrorism-countering.

Considering the fact that a number of African states are interested in the development of cooperation with Israel and that recently six countries of the East Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan—members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)) plead for Israel’s support in their struggle against Islamic terrorism, Israel took a decision to set up a regional military intelligence center to head the struggle against Islamists in the Horn of Africa. As the Israeli experts note, this step was largely initiated by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who visited Jerusalem in February of this year with a proposal to upgrade the existing bilateral military and intelligence partnership to a new broader alliance. The Kenyan President also noted that “six African states see Israel as a preferred partner since the United States, as a rule, show indifference to the problems of the Horn of Africa limiting their contribution to the anti-terrorism struggle to sporadic air strikes.” The efforts of China to fill in the niche in this war on terrorism that the Obama administration failed to occupy were also rejected by the East African countries since this region exercises caution in accepting Beijing’s military and economic generosity being wary of Chinese economic and military expansionism.

Israel, being an associate member of IGAD, is willing to take on the task of reorganizing the armed forces of the mentioned states, coordinating the intelligences and anti-terrorist authorities and providing equipment and electronics required to uproot the threat of terrorism.

In exchange for the Israel’s assistance, the six states of East Africa will offer preferential conditions to Israeli companies operating in or entering the regional market.

That explains why Israeli parliamentary Lobby pushing for the development of relations with African countries was launched (in the presence of the country’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu) in February of this year. Mr. Netanyahu then declared of his intention to make a trip across the countries of the East Africa at early July. At the opening ceremony of this event, Israeli PM emphasized the importance for the African countries to demonstrate their affinity to Israel “in the nature of votes of the countries of the African Union” in UN and other international organizations.

Vladimir Platov, expert specialized on the Middle East region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”