Dr. Alona Raucher Sternfeld, Pediatric Cardiologist at Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, examines children at the Save a Child's Heart clinic in Zanzibar. (Nati Shohat/Flash90) (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Save a Child's Heart clinic in Zanzibar

Israel’s popularity in Africa has grown, even among Muslim-majority nations. And these countries want its expertise in technology, agriculture, security, trade, water management and more.

By Israel Kasnett, JNS

With its fast-growing population and enormous resources, Africa is poised to dominate the global conversation in the 21st century. Yet this vast continent is not without its equally large environmental and demographic challenges as it continues to rapidly develop.

“Things are changing dramatically in Africa. And Africa is an increasingly important continent for the future stability of the world. Africa is the largest exporter of human refugees and has enormous, awesome resources. For that reason, there has been a new scramble for influence in Africa,” Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS.

And Israel, with its world-renowned expertise in areas such as technology, agriculture, water management and security, is poised to lend assistance to these African nations as they seek to grow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent trip to Chad, during which the two countries re-established diplomatic ties, highlighted the enormous strides Israel has made in Africa. The trip also broke a record for the Jewish state. This is the first time in Israel’s history that, out of the 193 or so recognized countries in the world, Israel now has diplomatic relations with 160 of them. That is a solid diplomatic achievement, and it is one that Israel will continue to improve upon.

“The world has changed,” Gold said. While he didn’t want to speculate on which countries would next institute diplomatic ties with Israel, but he did admit that change is in the air.

“The constraint on ties with Israel vanished,” Gold said. “The reason why Chad cut ties with Israel in 1972 had nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. The reason Chad cut ties with Israel is because Chad had Moammar Qaddafi breathing down its neck. But today, Qaddafi is gone, and Libya is almost gone. As a result, Chad felt complete freedom of maneuver that it didn’t have previously.”

The question for Israel is what African country will it seek to bridge diplomatic relations with next? Speculation points to Mali and Sudan, and perhaps Morocco.

‘You’re Either With the Deal or You’re Not’

Yonatan Freeman, of the political-science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told JNS regarding possible renewed ties between Israel and Mali, Liberia plays an important role since that is where Netanyahu met the leadership of Mali when he attended the ECOWAS summit in 2017.

Freeman noted that when Netanyahu was there, efforts were made to connect him with leaders of other countries Israel does not have formal ties with for the very purpose of laying the groundwork for similar developments.

Interestingly, during a state visit to Israel in 1983, Liberian President Samuel K. Doe said, “We in Liberia shall do our best in persuading some of our friends, African countries, to reconsider their decision and to resume relations with the State of Israel.”

Notably, it was Liberia that cast the deciding vote at the United Nations in 1947, leading to Israel’s establishment.

“Generally speaking,” Freeman continued, “there are others in Africa, but even wider in the Muslim world” who are interested in establishing diplomatic bonds with Israel. “We are in talks with others. I saw some reports that this could include a country like Kuwait. There are also reports about Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

Freeman pointed out that these countries, in addition to Chad, are Muslim. Netanyahu will likely soon be visiting Morocco, and this will have great impact on Israel’s relationship with non-Arab Muslim countries.

Trump Deal Could Broaden Relationship

Freeman said this relationship could broaden the closer we get to the peace deal that U.S. President Donald Trump will be announcing since “part of the deal will include language about recognition of Israel by the Muslim world.”

He added that Muslim countries could create pressure on the Palestinians to accept the deal. “They could say, ‘You’re either with the deal, or you’re not with us.’ ”

The scholar emphasized two more issues. One, noted Freeman, is that “for the first time, Israel has diplomatic relations with 160 countries. No. 2 is that Netanyahu’s trip to Chad is something which really shows that the supposed pressure [President Idriss] Déby had from Palestinians and others didn’t work. This is something that really shows that Israel is somewhere else since the ’70s. We don’t have to beg anymore. Other countries are begging to know what our secret is.”

This change has manifested itself in the way Israel’s popularity in Africa has grown, even among Muslim-majority nations. These countries want Israel’s expertise in technology, agriculture, security, trade, water expertise and more. “There were issues with negotiations over land in the ’70s, but in the end, it took two years [for the Egypt-Israel treaty]—not just for Egypt to prepare, but for the Arab world to prepare. For months, they were pressuring Egypt [against making a deal with Israel]. Not everyone agreed with what Egypt was doing,” said Freeman.

“What happened here,” he observed, “is that yes there was pressure, but it was pressure the other way, with other countries saying, ‘Go ahead, Chad [renew diplomatic relations with Israel] because we are going to be doing it, too.’”