The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Promoting Israeli ties with African countries should be made a diplomatic priority, as this investment can and will yield ‎economic and political dividends for Israel in the global arena. ‎

In its early years, Israel made a special effort to promote ties with ‎African countries. Partly this was an attempt to fulfill its destiny to be “a light ‎unto the nations,” but there was also an ideological angle to it, ‎namely the desire to help countries that had recently rid ‎themselves of the yoke of colonialism. It was also a strategy to ‎try to forge ties with distant countries in an effort to ‎circumvent the regional siege imposed on Israel. However, over time, ‎most of those alliances crumbled in the face of Arab pressure.‎

In recent years, opportunities have emerged to change this reality. ‎Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan provided the ‎precedent, as did the informal relations Israel has forged with ‎several other Arab countries. Those remain mostly clandestine, but ‎sometimes they are given some public expressions.‎ For example, Saudi Arabia has allowed Air India to fly through its ‎airspace to and from Israel, and there are growing rumors about ‎military cooperation between Israel and Persian Gulf states, ‎bolstered by statements made by various “former officials” in the ‎Gulf that the time has come to improve ties with Israel. ‎

Jerusalem has also been trying to build new bridges to African ‎countries. I remember one discussion in which it was said that investing ‎‎$100 million in Africa would serve Israeli interests better in the long term than an ‎investment in new weapons. ‎

Indeed, with relatively little investment, Israel could provide many African countries with ‎much-needed aid that will advance them economically, socially and ‎militarily – preferably in that order. ‎

Israel has three main interests – diplomatic, economic and ethical.

The diplomatic interest is clear: Israel wants to influence how ‎African countries vote at the United Nations and other international ‎institutions. Africa contains 54 countries, and if they side with ‎Israel in such votes – or even simply refrain from voting against it –‎Israel’s global standing would change for the better.‎

The economic interest is also clear: Africa is a growing market, and ‎the more ties Israel can forge there, the easier it ‎would be for it to garner business there. Many countries already ‎maintain robust business ties with African nations, but Israel still has ‎several advantages, mostly because it is small and unthreatening, unlike the ‎superpowers that operate intensively on the continent.‎

From an ethical standpoint, it is important for Israel to contribute to ‎humanity, especially if it can do so in places and on issues that can ‎advance the average citizen and those at the bottom of the ‎economic ladder.‎

Achieving such results requires bilateral visits by the countries’ ‎leaders. To make this vision practical, the state needs mechanisms ‎versed in the ways aid fund and business ventures can best be ‎utilized, especially since initial investments of this kind involve ‎considerable spending. ‎

In Israel, the Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation ‎is engaged in providing aid to foreign countries. This department ‎should be bolstered and its efforts should become a priority on the ‎prime minister’s agenda, as this “investment” can and will yield ‎economic and political dividends for Israel in the global arena. ‎

In the wake of Chadian President Idriss Déby’s historic visit to ‎Israel this week and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent ‎visits to Africa, one can only hope the momentum achieved in ‎Africa is maintained and that Israel finds a way to leverage these ‎visits into a wide-ranging economic journey.‎


Published in Israel Hayom 30.11.2018

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photo: Mark Neyman / Government Press Office (Israel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ]