In an unprecedented visit to Israel, Chadian President Idriss Déby on Sunday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin that he wishes to restore diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, 46 years after ties between the two countries were severed.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, hinted that he intends to travel to additional Arab countries in the near future, following his surprise visit to Oman in October for the first trip to the country by an Israeli prime minister in over 20 years.
Netanyahu and the leader of the Muslim-majority African country met for a one-on-one meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, after which they made comments to the press.
“The relations between our countries were cut in 1972 for specific historic reasons, but our special relations continued all the time,” said Déby. “The current visit to your beautiful country expresses our desire to take the relations that existed all the time and make them stronger.
“The resumption of diplomatic relations with your country, which I desire, does not make us ignore the Palestinian issue,” he continued. “My country is profoundly attached to the peace process and has shaped the Arab peace initiative, the Madrid principles and existing agreements.”
Déby also affirmed that Chad and Israel face “a common battle” against terrorism. Chad is one of several West African states engaged in Western-backed operations against Boko Haram and Islamic State jihadists.
“Mankind must simply get rid of this thing,” he said.
While Netanyahu would not comment on whether the bilateral talks during the visit would focus on weapon sales, a Chadian government source was quoted by the Reuters news agency on Sunday as saying the visit is “focused on security.” Israel has sent weapons and funds to Chad this year to help the country’s fight against rebels in the north, the source said.
During the press conference, Netanyahu thanked the Chadian leader for his visit and hailed “flourishing” ties between Israel and African nations.
“In the last two years, I was in Africa three times — East and West Africa,” he said. “I will drop a big hint: I hope to get to Central Africa. Israel is coming back to Africa. Africa is coming back to Israel.”
“I want to congratulate you on your leadership,” the premier told Déby. “You have statesmanship, because you recognized the change that is happening.”
“A few minutes ago, we discussed the great changes that are taking place in the Arab world regarding Israel. This was manifested in my recent visit to Oman with Sultan Qaboos. There will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” Netanyahu said, without elaborating.
He concluded his remarks by voicing confidence that “other African countries will follow suit,” in visiting Israel.
On Sunday evening, Rivlin hosted Déby at his Jerusalem residence and expressed Israel’s desire to restore diplomatic ties.
“We’re happy to renew the connection with Chad after too many years of disconnect,” Rivlin said. “Chad is an important country. It’s a country that fights terrorism and Israel stands by its side in this just fight.”
“We in Israel see great importance in the relations with Africa, the place where humanity was born,” the president added. “For us, Africa is the future. Chad is the future.”
“I hope that very soon the relations between us will be renewed. I hope that very soon I will receive here, in this chamber, the letter of credence of the new ambassador of Chad to Israel,” said Rivlin.
He also called on other countries in Africa to “embrace the future” and renew ties with Israel.
Déby said he was “proud” that he accepted Israel’s official invite.
“It can be called breaking the ice,” he said. “We came here indeed with the desire to renew diplomatic relations. Your country is an important country. Your country, like Chad, fights against terrorism.”
“Of course, peace in this region is still missing,” Déby added. “Peace is of course required for all peoples that want to live normal lives. The renewal of diplomatic ties with your country, Mr. President, can of course not make us ignore the Palestinian conflict. It’s very important to find a solution to this problem, which needs to be in line with existing resolutions.”
“Chad is predisposed to renew diplomatic relations with your country,” he said.
Rivlin answered by saying that “there is no doubt that formal diplomatic relations between our two countries can advance peace in the region, so that Jews and Muslims could see that there is no war between us.”
Jerusalem has in recent years intensified its contacts with various Muslim states in Africa, including Mali and Somalia, as well as in the Gulf.
Senior Israeli officials 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.
“Chad is a central country on the African continent,” the Foreign Ministry said in 2016, after Gold’s surprise 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.
Agencies contributed to this report.