This week’s visit to Israel by President Salva Kiir illustrates the growing
relationship between the Jewish state and newly independent South
According to President Shimon Peres, Kiir expressed admiration and
support for Israel.
“I am very moved to be in Israel and to walk on the
soil of the Promised Land, and with me are all South Sudanese people,” he said.
“Without you, we would not have arisen. You struggled alongside us in order to
allow the establishment of South Sudan and we are interested in learning from
In response, Peres noted that Israel has had a long
interest in the development and support of East African countries. “We know that
you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country
and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle
East and in advancing the values of equality, freedom and striving for peace and
good neighborly relations,” he said.
The reality is that Kiir’s visit was
kept under the radar and only lasted for 24 hours, an indication that more work
needs to be done. He met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He also took time to
visit Yad Vashem. Nevertheless, this important visit is one of Kiir’s first
trips abroad since becoming president of an independent South Sudan in
The fact that he brought along his minister of foreign affairs,
Nhial Deng Nhial, and minister of defense, Gen.
John Kong Nyoun, shows
that he intended to do serious work while in the country.
Israeli-South Sudan relationship goes back to the 1960s when Christians first
rebelled against the Araband Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum.
covert partnership, it began as part of Israel’s Periphery Policy of seeking
alliances with non-Arab states in the region. In Africa, Israel cultivated
relations with the newly independent nations, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
Guided by then-foreign minister Golda Meir and her ministry’s Center for
International Cooperation (Mashav), Israel sent advisers to help with
agriculture, technical training, medicine and infrastructure
Military training and aid was also a cornerstone of the
In 1967, following the Six Day War and the Khartoum Resolution of
the Arab League, the government flew South Sudanese rebel fighter Col. Joseph
Lagu Yanga with 40 officers to Israel for military training. According to author
Arop Madut-Arop, the third batch of trainees included John Garang de Mabior, who
later became the famous South Sudanese rebel leader.
relationships with many African states ended in 1973 when the Organization of
African Unity, with extreme pressure from the Arab League, encouraged its
members to severe ties with the country in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
Jerusalem’s relations with Apartheid South Africa were also flagged as a reason
for the deteriorating situation.
Since that setback, Israel has renewed
relations with most of sub-Saharan Africa, but much work remains to be done. In
the past several months the leaders of Uganda and Kenya have both come to
Israel. In addition, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon flew to Juba, the
capital of South Sudan, earlier this year. According to the Prime Minister’s
Office, Netanyahu plans to visit several East African countries in the
There are many important enterprising leaders in East Africa who
represent a relatively new generation and are not tied to the old
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Salva
Kiir are all men whose lives were forged in the crucible of conflict against
dictatorship, civil war and, in some cases, genocide. Countries such as South
Sudan are in desperate need of development assistance, dealing with such
fundamental issues such as road building; according to reports the country has
only 100 kilometers of paved roads. Already Israeli entrepreneurs are
considering ways to work with South Sudan.
While some Israelis see the
Sudanese or other Africans only through the lens of the current refugee and
migrant problem, the reality is that aiding Africa’s economic woes will help
stem the tide of immigrants. The government and its various ministries should
continue to support the growing relationship with East Africa and hope that
things turn out better than they did the last time around.