Chad becomes latest African and Muslim majority nation to open embassy in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno hold up pieces of ribbon after a ceremony opening the embassy of Chad in Israel yesterday (PHOTO: Haim Zach /GPO/The Times of Israel)

Originally published in The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined visiting President of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno in Tel Aviv yesterday 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.

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“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.

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“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 normalisation 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 normalisation in recent years.

“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.”

Meanwhile the South African which sides with the Palestinian cause in its conflict with Israel, is battling to keep Israel out of the African Union’s annual summit in Addis Ababa this month, reports South African Jewish Report.

While Israel still officially has observer status at the African Union (AU), it’s unlikely to be allowed to attend the Addis summit, it writes.

This follows a year-long battle that resulted in Israel being granted observer status in 2021. But countries like South Africa and Algeria stridently opposed both the procedure and principle behind this decision.

South Africa has reportedly threatened the AU Commission chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, not to dare let Israel in.

South Africa contended that Faki had no power to confer observer status. In a July 2021 press statement, the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) called the decision “unjust”, “unwarranted”, and “inexplicable”.

The divisive issue was hotly debated at the last summit, and when the Assembly of Heads of State and Government couldn’t agree, the committee was formed to examine the issue and report back this year. It had three countries opposed to Israel: Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa, and three states close to Israel: Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda, plus Senegal as the chair.

The committee has never convened. In the interim, Israel has technically been an observer during 2022, but it hasn’t been present to observe much.

Israel’s supporters contend that Israel maintains its observer status until it’s officially expelled. Its detractors – including South Africa – contend that it doesn’t have the status, and therefore isn’t welcome to attend public AU meetings.

“The decision to grant Israel observer status was unanimously suspended” in February 2022, Pandor claims. South Africa rallied the Southern African Development Community and other states to its position. It has reportedly placed heavy pressure on Faki not to invite Israel to the 2023 summit.

The question remains as to whether Israel is meant to wait for an explicit invitation to attend the summit. Sources at the Israeli foreign affairs ministry recall that such invitations weren’t issued nor needed in the days of the OAU.

To date, Israel hasn’t received an invitation and thus won’t attend. The ministry is understood to be pushing for an invitation, however.

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