Netanyahu joins Chad’s president to open new embassy in Israel

Both leaders hail ‘historic’ moment, pay tribute to Mahamat Idriss, Deby Itno’s slain father, who was instrumental in restoring long-severed ties in 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Chad's President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno hold up pieces of ribbon after a ceremony opening the embassy of Chad in Israel on February 2, 2023 (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Chad's President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno hold up pieces of ribbon after a ceremony opening the embassy of Chad in Israel on February 2, 2023 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined visiting President of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning to officially open the African nation’s embassy in Israel, a move both leaders hailed as “historic.”

In 2019, during Netanyahu’s previous term, he and late president Idriss Deby Itno, the current president’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.

“This is a historic moment. It follows the steps we took with your late father, my historic visit to Chad, and your historic visit to Israel now, in which we are formally opening the embassy today,” said Netanyahu.

“We are strengthening our common interests and friendship, and pursuing peace, security and prosperity,” he added. “I welcome you in great friendship and I hope to see you again in Chad.”

Mahamat Deby also paid tribute to his father and to Netanyahu.

“This is a great day, a historic day for Chad and for Israel,” he said, dedicating the moment to “my father, a very courageous man with a vision.”

“We are here today to officially open the embassy. It is thanks to God and the courage and vision [my father] had, and also thanks to you, prime minister,” he said. He then officially extended an invitation to Netanyahu to visit his country.

Netanyahu held a series of meetings on Wednesday with Mahamat Deby, in which he laid out his plans for the ties.

“We see these relations as extremely important — with a great country at the heart of Africa,” Netanyahu said. “These are relations that we want to upgrade to new levels, to new heights.”

The move came with Israel and Sudan reportedly gearing up to announce a normalization of ties.

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 toward 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 was 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 visits,” Bourgel continued, “especially Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, 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 forums. 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 training medical professionals in emergency and trauma medicine.

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

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

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

“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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