In unprecedented ‘breakthrough’ move, leader of Chad lands in Israel for visit

In unprecedented ‘breakthrough’ move, leader of Chad lands in Israel for visit

Idriss Déby heads Muslim-majority nation in Central Africa that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel; Netanyahu hails ‘historic visit’ ahead of meeting

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President of Chad Idriss Deby at a conference in Beijing, September. 3, 2018 (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP)
President of Chad Idriss Deby at a conference in Beijing, September. 3, 2018 (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP)

The president of Chad, Idriss Déby, landed in Israel on Sunday and kicked off an unprecedented trip for the leader of the Muslim-majority nation in Central Africa, which does not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with Déby at 4:30 p.m. (Israel time) for a one-on-one meeting, and for a dinner at his Jerusalem residence, his office announced Sunday. President Reuven Rivlin will host Déby in his residence late Sunday afternoon.

“This is another diplomatic breakthrough,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a historic and important visit that comes against the backdrop of the efforts we led. I welcome the president of Chad’s arrival in Israel.”

The Prime Minister’s Office noted in a statement that Déby’s visit will mark the first visit to Israel of a president of Chad since Israel was founded in 1948.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, Jerusalem has in recent years intensified its contacts with various Muslim states in Africa, including Mali and Somalia, as well as in the Gulf.

In October, he secretly traveled to Oman, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to do so in more than 20 years.

Senior Israeli officials have recently traveled to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, to prepare Déby’s visit to Israel and to lay the groundwork for a possible renewal of diplomatic relations.

In July 2016, then Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold met Déby, who has ruled Chad since 1990, at his presidential palace in the city of Fada, in the heart of the Sahara Desert.

“We view the meeting as an important step in our relations with Chad,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel at the time.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold (left) meets with the president of Chad, Idriss Déby (right), in the presidential palace in the city of Fada, in the heart of the Sahara desert, July 14, 2016. (Courtesy, Foreign Ministry)

“Chad is a central country on the African continent,” the Foreign Ministry said in 2016, after Gold’s surprising visit. “It is a Muslim, Arabic-speaking country that deals with radical Islamic terrorism and this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union.” The two sides discussed issues of common interest and the deepening of bilateral cooperation, it said in a statement.

The Republic of Chad cut diplomatic ties with Jerusalem in 1972. Some 13.5 million people live in Chad today, 55 percent of whom are Muslim. About 40% are Christian.

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

He constantly 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.

Last month, he hinted at the budding diplomatic ties with Muslim-majority nations in Africa, saying that many countries on the continent are interested in cooperating with the Jewish state on fighting Islamic terrorism. This fact, he said, “paves the way for additional countries to recognize the State of Israel, and I think you will be hearing about them very soon,” he said.

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