After almost five decades, Israel on Wednesday renewed diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea, a small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in West Africa that cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.
Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold signed an agreement with Ibrahim Khalil Kaba, President Alpha Condé’s chief of staff, in Paris.
“This is an important closing of a circle,” Gold said, noting that it has been nearly 50 years since the government in Conakry cut ties with Israel.
“The number of countries on the African continent that still haven’t [re-established ties with Israel] is steadily decreasing, and we’re hopeful that soon this number will not exist anymore,” Gold said. “Israel is calling on the countries that still haven’t renewed diplomatic relations to follow in Guinea’s footsteps so that we can work together to the benefit of all peoples in the region.”
Israel currently does not have official relations with several sub-Saharan African countries, including Niger, Chad, Mali, Somalia, Djibouti and others.
Israel is expected to announce the renewing of diplomatic ties with another Muslim African nation in the coming days.
Gold said that bilateral ties with Guinea had existed even when they were not formal ones, and emphasized Israel’s contribution in the fight against the Ebola virus, which had affected the West African nation. “Friends in need are friends indeed,” Gold said.
Paul Hirschson, Israel’s Senegal-based ambassador to several Western African nations, will also become envoy to Guinea.
Also on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry nominated former Israeli envoy to Senegal Eliahu Ben-Tura as ambassador to Ivory Coast, Gadi Harpaz as ambassador to Eritrea and Oren Rozenblat as ambassador to Angola.
The Republic of Guinea — not to be confused with tiny Guinea-Bissau, which is also in West Africa, and Equatorial Guinea, in Central Africa — has some 10.5 million inhabitants, 85 percent of whom are Muslim.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the establishment of diplomatic ties with all African nations a strategic goal for its government, and visited sub-Saharan Africa two weeks ago.
Earlier this month, The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu recently met with the president of Somalia, Hassan Shekh Mohamud, in the first high-level contact between the two countries. Somalia, a mostly Sunni Muslim country and a member of the Arab League, has never recognized the State of Israel.
During a July 7 joint press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Netanyahu said he was delighted that “the cooperation that we have with so many other African countries is congealing and consolidating for a recognition that all African countries, all of them without exception, can benefit from a renewed cooperation with Israel.”
Addressing the Ethiopian parliament later that day, the prime minister said he was “proud to announce that Israel is coming back to Africa in a big way… I want to see every African country represented with an embassy in Israel.”
During his historic trip to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia — the first prime ministerial visit to sub-Saharan Africa in three decades — Netanyahu announced the intention of Tanzania to open its first-ever embassy in Tel Aviv. He also said the leaders of his host countries vowed publicly to push for Israel to regain observer status at the African Union.
“Both during this visit and afterwards, we are receiving calls from other countries, some of which we do not have relations with, that they want to enhance relations,” Netanyahu said at the July 10 weekly cabinet meeting. “That is to say, there is a certain process here that is advancing toward the enhancement and normalization of our ties with African countries.”