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Kenya, Israel's Forward Base in Africa

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On March 15, 2007, a diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi met with the director general of the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, Tom Amolo. The high-ranking Kenyan official said Kenya and Israel had maintained close security and intelligence cooperation for many years and were in contact at every level and in every field of endeavor.

“Israel is a key geo-strategic partner,” he told the American diplomat in the Kenyan capital, according to U.S. State Department cable that was leaked to WikiLeaks. “It is a suitable counterweight for us to those states in our region that do not share our values,” Amolo was quoted as saying. The American diplomat added in parentheses that Amolo appeared to be referring to Sudan.

Foreign media reports of Israeli advisers arriving in Nairobi on Sunday to help Kenyan security forces handle the hostage crisis at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in the city, where dozens of people were killed Saturday in an attack by Islamic militants, are in line with the intimate security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

In the aftermath of the attack, this cooperation is expected to become even closer.

The Al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1997 set off a warning light for Israeli intelligence regarding the terror threat in Africa. Subsequent attacks, like the 2002 Al-Qaida attack against Israeli tourists at the Paradise Hotel in the Kenyan city of Mombasa and the attempt to down an Israeli Arkia airliner there with a shoulder-fired missile, turned the warning light into a real alarm bell.

In June 2012, two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force were arrested while in possession of explosives. The pair, who were convicted several months ago and sentenced to life in prison, had planned a terror attack against Israeli diplomats as part of Iran’s effort to avenge a wave of assassinations of nuclear scientists that the Iranians attributed to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. The defendants testified in court that they had been interrogated in a Kenyan jail by Israeli investigators.

Kenya has also been a customer of Israel Military Industries. Israel sold Kenya a considerable amount of weaponry, but beyond that, Israel has provided military know-how. Hundreds of Kenyan soldiers in recent years have received training in combating terrorism in Israel or were trained in Kenya by official or semi-official Israeli instructors. 

Kenya Defense Forces arriving at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, September 22, 2013.Credit: AFP

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