(photo credit: REUTERS)
Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe watched Syrian rebels and forces of President Bashar Assad pound each other’s positions on Monday while at the Golan Heights on the first full day of an official five-day visit.
“He went to the Golan Heights, where he had a presentation of the situation,” a member of Gnassingbe’s entourage said. “It was good because you had light bombing this morning between the rebels and the government forces, so it was live. He heard the boom, boom, boom.”
An IDF official briefed the Togolese leader on the situation, and explained who – of al-Nusra, Hezbollah, ISIS among others – controls what.
The official also stressed that UN forces no longer play a significant role in the area.
Gnassingbe also toured Christian sites in the Galilee on Monday, and received briefings on Israeli advances in agriculture and renewable energy.
He later went to Ziv Hospital in Safed, where he visited Syrians being treated by Israeli doctors.
Gnassingbe became Togo’s president in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who held the same office for 38 years. Israeli diplomatic officials said this week’s visit, Gnassingbe’s second, is one more example of rapidly growing ties between Israel and Africa.
Gnassingbe is to meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday morning and that evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In July Netanyahu was in Uganda to meet with leaders of seven east African states. He has since publicly said he wants a similar meeting with west African states by the end of this year.
Two weeks ago the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) invited Netanyahu to a meeting to be held later this year in Nigeria.
As a side note, Gnassingbe’s sister is married to the ECOWAS president, Marcel Alain de Souza, who was in Israel two weeks ago.
Togo is one of the countries Jerusalem is relying on to help build stronger ties with western Africa, according to one Israeli diplomatic official.
Along with other African nations, Togo is gravely concerned over extremist Islamic terror, particularly from al-Qaida affiliates in the Maghreb, who have staged attacks in nearby Mali, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.
The official said those concerns extend to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and its port in the capital of Lome.
Togo also wants Israel security expertise for its new airport terminal in Lome, now a major transportation hub for western Africa.
The Togolese president will visit Haifa Port as well as the Elbit plant on Tuesday.
Togo is one of the West African states most friendly toward Israel and supported Israel on key issues in 2012-2013 while on the UN Security Council.
Togo generally supports Israel, abstains or is absent for related UN votes. It abstained from the 2012 General Assembly debate over Palestinian non-member observer status, it was absent for the 2009 vote to endorse the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and absent in 2015 when a resolution passed to allow a Palestinian flag to be flown at the UN.
For the last two years, Togo voted for Israel on International Atomic Energy Agency resolutions which would have forced Israel to allow inspection of nuclear facilities. While it abstained from the 2011 UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as a state, it voted against Israel on a UNESCO resolution that expunged any Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Israel established diplomatic ties with the nation of some 7.5 million people, after it declared independence in 1960. Togo cut relations in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War, as did most African states, but renewed them in 1987.
Togo was one of four countries that then premier Yitzhak Shamir visited in 1987, the last visit to sub-Saharan Africa by an Israeli prime minister until Netanyahu’s visit there in July.