Meddling in Africa
Israel is forging ever-closer ties in the Arab hinterland in Africa, virtually unopposed, writes Saleh Al-Naami
All signs indicate that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remains keen on implementing his ministry’s strategic priorities as set out from his first day in office, including pouncing on Africa. Lieberman’s interest in Africa revives former prime minister Golda Meir’s outlook in the 1950s and 1960s. She visited most non-Arab states on the continent. Israel’s current intensified moves mainly target the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
While the Israeli Foreign Ministry is in theory in charge of Israel’s policies in Africa, there is no doubt that the party that is playing the greater role is Mossad. It maintains active agents in many African capitals, as recently revealed by Haaretz newspaper. Assigning Mossad this task is directly connected to this organisation’s routine attempts to undermine the national security of Arab states in Africa and on the Red Sea.
Indeed, there is a direct relationship between recent efforts to nurture Israeli-Ethiopian ties and threats by the government of Addis Ababa to re-channel Nile waters to the disadvantage of Egypt and Sudan. According to Israeli sources, the relationship between Tel Aviv and Addis Ababa went to a new level when Tel Aviv showed dexterity in abandoning its former ally Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki for the sake of closer ties with the Ethiopian regime. Israel and Ethiopia have signed many arms deals and are involved in training programmes whereby Israeli military units train Ethiopian forces.
Some make a connection between Tel Aviv’s cooperation with Addis Ababa and Ethiopia’s victories over Eritrea in battles that took place two years ago. Meanwhile, no one expects Israel or Ethiopia to reveal what may have been planned against Egypt behind the scenes. Lieberman once threatened to destroy Egypt’s High Dam. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz insists that Egypt is an “enemy state” despite the 1978 Egypt- Israel Peace Treaty.
It is widely known that Israel uses its relations with states and political movements that are hostile to Arab countries to undermine Arab national security, and distract influential Arab states with secondary issues. This way, the role of these Arab states in the Arab-Israeli conflict is curtailed. In a recent and unprecedented admission, Shlomo Nakdimon, adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, stated that Israel had manoeuvred since the 1950s to strengthen ties with the Kurds in northern Iraq in support of their separatist agenda to undermine the Iraqi regime and influence the priorities of Baghdad. For the same reasons, Israel drew closer to the Shah of Iran as well as the military leadership and secularists in Turkey because of their animosity towards the Arab world. Israel also built an alliance with the Maronites in Lebanon to target Palestinian resistance and Lebanese nationalist movements.
In his book Periphery Alliance, Nakdimon noted that the same reasoning was behind Israel’s move to nurture ties with the separatist Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), whereby they supplied the movement with arms and training. It is also no secret that Tel Aviv encouraged Jewish lobby groups in the US to draft agendas for expatriate Coptic groups, which are then presented to the US Congress and the US administration, specifically to include claims of discrimination and oppression of Copts.
Regarding Ethiopia, there was a time when Eritrean President Afewerki had strong ties with Israel, which had convinced him to undermine the security of Yemen by occupying Yemeni islands in the Red Sea using superior weapons supplied by Israel. But since that time Tel Aviv has felt it more beneficial to nurture relations with Ethiopia — Afewerki’s arch nemesis — and did not hesitate in cutting the Eritrean president off. In particular, Tel Aviv wants to sidetrack Egypt since it continues to be the major challenge for Israel’s regional strategy, as stated by Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic threats in Netanyahu’s government, General Moshe Yalon, who previously served as chief of staff of the armed forces.
Israel’s interest in the Horn of Africa is not limited to meddling in Egypt’s national security by interfering with Cairo’s quota of Nile waters, but also serves higher Israeli goals. The Horn of Africa overlooks the straits of Bab Al-Mandab, through which passes 20 per cent of Israel’s foreign trade. The growing power of Al-Qaeda and other groups associated with it in the region, especially in Somalia, has encouraged Israel to establish a presence in the area. As a close ally of Israel, Ethiopia’s interference in Somali affairs has facilitated Israel’s job. There are indications that Israel has used Ethiopia’s occupation of large areas in Somalia to give Mossad a foothold.
Zvi Bar expressed a widely held fear in Tel Aviv when expressing concern about the rise of Islam in Africa since it would lead to an anti-Israel atmosphere on the continent. Some analysts believe this is why Israel is redoubling its efforts in the region. When Israel approaches regimes that are in power struggles with Muslim opponents, they encourage them to rely on Israel’s experience in confronting Islamic movements. Hence, Israel has exerted much effort in drawing closer to Nigeria, and signed an agreement to supply it with military equipment.
There is also a long list of Israeli interests in Africa that it wants to protect, including controlling oil mining on the continent, whereby Israeli companies — under European cover — are in charge of oil exploration in several African countries. Israel has taken great interest in Africa’s oil reserves after UN reports confirmed them at more than 80 billion barrels. Israel also mines natural resources in African states, including uranium. In his book With the Power of Science, Israeli nuclear scientist Ariel Bakhrakh revealed that Israel had stolen uranium from African states under the pretence that its scientists were carrying out geological tests.
Third, Africa is a vast market for Israeli products, especially military products. Also, Israel monopolises many industrial and economic sectors in a number of Africa states. For example, Israeli companies have a strong hold on food products in Ethiopia. Finally, producing and exporting diamonds is a major source of revenue for Israel, and these diamonds are mined in Africa.
Historically, Israel has used several tools to strengthen ties with African countries, at times by exporting technical know-how in agriculture and at others through military training, discreetly providing medical treatment for African rulers at Israeli hospitals, and hosting African students at Israeli universities. Israel has not hesitated to participate in military coups in some African states. As confirmed by Yossi Melman, an Israeli commentator on intelligence issues, it is certain that Mossad assisted in coups that took place in Uganda and Zanzibar.
What is remarkable is that Israel is moving freely on the African continent without any Arab reaction. Arab states are failing to utilise the many tools they possess to not only stop Israel’s manoeuvres, but more importantly to halt Tel Aviv’s efforts to undermine Arab national security.
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