In Chad, Netanyahu meets with President Déby

During whirlwind trip, PM and Chadian leader expected to announce renewal of ties after 50-year split; defense deals with African Muslim-majority nation also on agenda

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Chad’s President Idriss Déby seen at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, January 20, 2018. (Government Press Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Chad’s President Idriss Déby seen at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, January 20, 2018. (Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Chad, Sunday morning for a visit of about seven hours, during which he and Chadian President Idriss Déby are expected to announce the resumption of bilateral ties.

After arriving in the country, Netanyahu was greeted by Chad Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene, the second-highest official in the country, a local source told The Times of Israel.

At the presidential palace in N’Djamena, the country’s capital city, Netanyahu met with Chad’s President Idriss Déby for a one-on-one talk, with another scheduled together with their expanded staff.

He and Déby are expected to issue a formal declaration about the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which were severed 47 years ago.

If Chad formally resumes ties with Israel, the number of countries that have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state would reach a record 161, part of an intense drive by Netanyahu to expand Israel’s diplomatic reach. In November, Déby made a surprise visit to Israel, during which he said he was interested in restoring full diplomatic ties.

Before taking off, the prime minister called the visit a “historic breakthrough.”

“Chad is a huge Muslim country that borders on Libya and Sudan. It’s part of the revolution we are doing in the Arab and Muslim world,” he said from the tarmac.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to reporters from Ben-Gurion Airport on January 20, 2019. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu claimed that Iran and the Palestinians were trying to prevent Israel’s diplomatic push.

“It greatly worries, even greatly angers [them],” he said.

The last country to renew diplomatic ties with Israel was Nicaragua, in March of 2017. The Central American country had severed diplomatic relations seven years earlier, in protest over an incident during which violent pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops clashed aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.

At the time, Netanyahu did not fly to Nicaragua for a ceremony.

In N’Djamena, Netanyahu is widely expected to boost defense deals and other trade ties with Chad. For that purpose, he is joined by senior officials from the defense and finance ministries, Israel’s Kan broadcaster reported on Saturday.

After delivering a statement to the press, Netanyahu is scheduled to leave for Israel around 3 p.m.

Chad is located in a potentially strategically important place for Israel, as it could enable Israeli aircraft to shave off several hours in flight routes to Latin America (though for this to happen Israel would also need to get overfly rights from Sudan, which does not appear imminent).

Netanyahu’s flight, which must skirt Sudan, is expected to take eight hours, despite N’Djamena being only 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) from Tel Aviv.

The Republic of Chad cut diplomatic ties with Jerusalem on November 28, 1972, at the behest of Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi.

Nearly 15 million people live in Chad, 55 percent of them Muslim. About 40% are Christian.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Idriss Deby of Chad meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 25, 2018. (GPO)

“The relations between our countries were cut in 1972 for specific historic reasons, but our special relations continued all the time,” Déby, who has ruled Chad since 1990, said in Jerusalem in November.

“The resumption of diplomatic relations with your country, which I desire, does not make us ignore the Palestinian issue,” Déby continued. “My country is profoundly attached to the peace process and has shaped the Arab peace initiative, the Madrid principles and existing agreements.”

At an event at the Jerusalem residence of President Reuven Rivlin, Déby said Israel is “an important partner” for Chad.

“Of course, peace has not yet come to the region. Peace is what every people needs to live a good life. I want to say to you that diplomatic relations with Israel would not make the Palestinians disappear. This is a critical issues that must be dealt with,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at the memorial for the Rwandan genocide in Kigali on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu has traveled to Africa three times in the last two years, visiting Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Liberia.

He regularly vows to expand ties with all countries on the continent, including those that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

In July 2016, the Republic of Guinea, a small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in West Africa, renewed diplomatic relations with Israel, after it had cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.

Since then, Netanyahu has met with leaders of additional African Muslim-majority states, such as Mali and Somalia.

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