N'DJAMENA - Iran and the Palestinian Authority tried to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Chad but failed, the premier revealed ahead of landing in the the African country early Sunday morning, on a historic diplomatic visit aimed at renewing diplomatic ties between the countries.Upon landing Sunday morning for the first ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Central African country, Netanyahu was met at the airport by Chad's foreign minister, and huddled with him before going to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Idriss Deby.
The two leaders met privately for about an hour. Netanyahu is scheduled to return to Israel at about 3 in the afternoon, some 7 hours after landing.
Netanyahu"s Remarks Upon Departure to Chad, January 20, 2019 (GPO)
"The Iranians and Palestinians were upset about the trip and tried to stop it but failed," Netanyahu said, adding that there would be additional trips in the future to Muslim states.
This trip follows by just two months Déby’s surprise visit to Jerusalem, and the two leaders are expected to announce the establishment of formal diplomatic ties.
Forging stronger ties with Africa is one of Netanyahu’s central foreign policy aims, and this will be his fourth visit to the continent since July 2016, when he became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go to Africa since Yitzhak Shamir did so 29 years earlier.
As he did on trips to Liberia in June 2017 and Kenya for the swearing in of President Uhuru Kenyatta in November of that year, Netanyahu is only scheduled to spend a number of hours on the ground, not staying overnight because of security concerns. Only in July 2016, when he spent five days visiting Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, did he stay overnight.
Chad broke off ties with Israel 46 years ago under pressure from the leader of its northern neighbor, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem in November, Déby said his visit would enable the opening of a “new chapter” in ties between the two countries.
“Chad is a very important country in Africa, and a very important country for Israel,” Netanyahu said at the time. “I am happy we are resuming our friendship,” he added, saying that although diplomatic ties were cut off in 1972, cooperation – which he said would now be extended – always continued “under the radar.”
While Chad is an extremely poor, dictatorial, landlocked country that non-governmental organization Freedom House characterizes as the 18th-least free nation in the world, it does hold strategic significance for Israel since it is a Muslim-majority state that borders Libya and Sudan. Ties with this central African country could afford Israel the opportunity to monitor what is moving south out of Libya - a major breeding ground for terrorism that includes Islamic State, al-Qaeda and even Boko Haram.
And as far as Chad is concerned, Israel can help it face its cocktail of problems, from water scarcity to securing its borders and dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism.
During his visit in November, Déby characterized terrorism as a “disease of humanity” that necessitates its defeat through cooperation by all countries.
Tellingly, just weeks after his visit in November, Chad broke a pattern of years of reflexively voting against Israel at the United Nations by not voting in the General Assembly on a US-sponsored resolution that condemned Hamas for the violence in Gaza.
Chad will be the second African Muslim state with which Israel has reestablished ties since Netanyahu’s visit to Africa in 2016. Just two weeks after that visit, Israel established ties with the West African state of Guinea.
This will leave seven other predominantly Muslim states in sub-Saharan Africa with whom Israel does not have ties: Mali, Niger, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros.
Israel had diplomatic relations with Mauritania from 1999 to 2009, and even had an embassy there, until Mauritania – a member of the Arab League – cut off ties following 2009’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas.
Chad, a member of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has a population of 16 million people, 52% of whom are Muslim, and another 44% who are Christian.