PM: Renewal of Chad ties is proof of Israel’s ‘rising standing’ in Muslim world

Netanyahu cites support from some Arab states for his trip to N’Djamena, says success comes despite active efforts by Palestinians and Iran to torpedo the move

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

Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno (R) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, January 20, 2019. (Brahim Adij/AFP)
Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno (R) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, January 20, 2019. (Brahim Adij/AFP)

N’DJAMENA, Chad — Jerusalem’s increasingly robust ties with the Arab world help Israel break the ice with Muslim-majority states in Africa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, as he wrapped a whirlwind visit to Chad during which the resumption of bilateral ties were declared.

Speaking to reporters moments before he boarded his Boeing 767 en route to Tel Aviv, Netanyahu also said the Palestinians and Iran actively tried to prevent Chad from re-establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

“This visit first and foremost teaches us about our standing in the Arab world,” Netanyahu said. “Not only that there wasn’t any opposition, but also, I said this unofficially, there was some support.”

He declined to say which countries expressed support for the reestablishment of ties between the northern-central African nation of 15 million and Israel nearly 50 years after they were severed.

“Two countries views this process with great anger: Iran and the Palestinians,” he said. “But the others: either they are passive or they actively support it. This testifies to our quickly rising standing in the Arab, and in Muslim, countries across world.”

Iran had made “strenuous efforts” to derail Sunday’s renewal of ties, he said, including by sending delegations to N’Djamena in a bid to pressure the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Chadian President Idriss Deby meet at the presidential palace in N’Djamena, Chad, on January 20, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Chad and other Muslim countries have asked Israel to help them establish or improve ties with other countries, he added.

“It’s indeed a breakthrough into the heart of the Muslim world,” he declared, sitting in a room at the N’Djamena airport.

Chad’s willingness to renew diplomatic ties with Israel did not come suddenly but rather was the “fruit of many years of work” by the Foreign Ministry, Mossad and other Israeli government agencies, he said.

“It’s a joint effort to break the wall of opposition in the Arab and Muslim world,” he went on. “First you penetrate the Arab world, and that helps you to penetrate the Muslim countries. The big difference is that you have a clear process of normalization with the Arab world, though it is not complete and not formal, and with that you go to the [non-Arab] Muslim world.”

Asked by a reporter over a possible rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the prime minister noted that the kingdom recently allowed Air India to fly to and from Israel, “something that was unimaginable just a few years ago.”

“This showed that our relations with the wealthiest country in the Arab world are changing,” he added, noting also that Israel’s ties with Egypt “are better than ever.”

Netanyahu added that he speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi “about every two weeks.”

“I don’t ask him simply how are you doing. There are many different issues that we discuss,” he said.

With the resumption of diplomatic relations with Chad, Israel now has formal ties with a 161 countries, a record for the Jewish state.

Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972 due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Before their statements, Netanyahu and Chadian President Idriss Déby had a lengthy meeting, during which the details of the agreement were finalized.

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

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin stands by as his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby signs the guestbook upon the latter’s arrival at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on November 25, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

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

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