Chad’s president meets with Netanyahu and Mossad chief ahead of embassy opening

Mahamat Deby’s father decided in 2019 to restore relations with Israel for the first time since 1972, as Israel works to expand ties in Africa

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, welcomes Chad's President Mahamat Deby in Jerusalem, February 1, 2023 ((Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, welcomes Chad's President Mahamat Deby in Jerusalem, February 1, 2023 ((Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who is visiting Israel to open the central African nation’s embassy to the Jewish state.

“We see these relations as extremely important — with a great country at the heart of Africa,” Netanyahu said as the two met in Jerusalem. “These are relations that we want to upgrade to new levels, to new heights — and your visit here in Israel and the opening of the embassy are an expression of this.”

In 2019, during Netanyahu’s last term, he and late president Idriss Deby Itno, Mahamat Deby’s father, announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. Chad had severed ties with Israel in 1972 due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

The elder Deby, who ruled the Muslim-majority nation for more than three decades, was killed in 2021 on the battlefield in a fight against rebels. His son replaced him as president at the head of a military junta.

Netanyahu and Deby will open the embassy Thursday morning, before the prime minister flies to France to meet with President Emmanuel Macron.

Upon landing in Israel Tuesday night, Deby was received at the airport by Mossad chief David Barnea. The Chadian delegation then headed to Mossad headquarters in Glilot for a celebratory meeting.

Mossad played a central role in maintaining quiet ties with Chad after 1972, and in working towards full normalization in recent years.

Mossad chief David Barnea, right, welcomes Chad’s President Mahamat Deby at Ben Gurion Airport, January 31, 2023 (courtesy)

“We are full of hope,” said Barnea, “that other leaders in the Middle East and in Africa will take inspiration from this important agreement, and will advance their relations with Israel.”

Deby visited the Western Wall and the Temple Mount on a rainy Wednesday night as well.

Ben Bourgel, Israel’s ambassador in Senegal, who is also non-resident ambassador to a host of African nations including The Gambia and Guinea, presented his credentials to Deby last year.

Bourgel told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that the Foreign Ministry is seeking to cooperate with Chad wherever it can [provide added value, “whether it is health, agriculture, education, and economy.”

“He was moved by all his visit,” Bourgel continued, “especially Yad Vashem, the Kotel, the Temple Mount.”

Netanyahu has made expanding Israel’s ties in Africa a focus of his foreign policy in the past.

Deby met with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen as well, who thanked the Chadian leader for his country’s support in international fora. Chad voted for Israel to join the African Union as an observer state in 2021, and was absent during the United Nations General Assembly vote to refer the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the International Court of Justice.

Cohen also pointed to the humanitarian programs Israel runs in Chad.

Mashav, the Foreign Ministry’s international development organization, has a team of doctors in the country now training medical professionals in emergency and trauma medicine.

On Wednesday, Deby planted an olive tree at the Jewish National Fund’s Grove of Nations in Jerusalem. JNF and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding last year on cooperation on forestry and climate change.

Over 15 million people live in Chad today, 52 percent of them Muslim and about 43% are Christian.

Israel and Chadian leaders have acknowledged that clandestine contacts continued even after relations were severed.

Ambassador Ben Bourgel presents his credentials to Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno on May 17, 2022. (Foreign Ministry/Twitter)

“The relations between our countries were cut in 1972 for specific historic reasons, but our special relations continued all the time,” the late Idriss Deby said in Jerusalem in 2019.

In addition to seeking new markets for Israeli agriculture, technology and security know-how, Netanyahu has been eager to improve African nations’ voting record on Israel-related matters in international forums such as the United Nations Security Council and UNESCO.

In July 2016, Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier in decades to travel to the continent when he visited four East African nations: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

From left to right: Honore Gatera, the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and Rwandan President Paul Kagama, in Kigali, Rwanda, July 6, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In December of that year, Jerusalem hosted seven ministers and many other top officials from over a dozen Western African countries at an agricultural conference in Israel, which was co-sponsored by the Economic Community of West African States and Mashav.

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