President of Chad Visits Israel, 46 Years After Ties Were Severed

Idriss Deby making first visit by a Chadian president since Israel was founded in 1948 ■ According to Chadian sources, Israel has supplied the Muslim-majority country with weapons to aid in the fight against rebels

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FILE PHOTO: Chad's President Idriss Deby on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: Chad's President Idriss Deby on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018. Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Noa Landau

The president of the Republic of Chad, Idriss Deby, will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday as part of an official visit to Israel.

The prime minister will hold a private meeting with Deby, following which the two will give a joint statement to the media. A second meeting will be held later on Sunday during dinner. Deby is also set to meet President Reuven Rivlin at 6 P.M.

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Sources in Chad told Reuters that President Deby's visit is mainly focused on security issues. Israel, the sources said, has supplied the Chadian army with weaponry and other equipment this year to help in its fight against northern rebels.

This is the first visit by a Chadian president since Israel was founded in 1948, which Netanyahu said reflects "the risings status of Israel among the nations." However the visit does not entail a formal renewal of relations and comes amid heavy diplomatic efforts led by Netanyahu.

Relations between the two countries were severed in 1972. However, coordination between Israel and Chad in the defense arena never truly ceased. In the 1980s, foreign reports said that Israel was supplying weapons to then-Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, who was sentenced in 2016 to life in prison for crimes against humanity. Israel reportedly also sold weapons to Deby during Chad's civil war in 2005-2010.

"This is another diplomatic breakthrough," Netanyahu said during Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "Today we turn a new page in relations with Chad, and I tell you – there will yet be other countries soon," Netanyahu added. 

"I met him in Paris for lunch. He comes thanks to tremendous efforts I've led in recent years," Netanyahu said of the president of the Muslim-majority country.

Netanyahu added, "every week we see the implementation of this concept, of cultivating economic-technological strength, alongside security-intelligence strength, to receive political-diplomatic strength. This is happening before our eyes, one might say, on a daily basis." 

Dr. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former director general of the Foreign Ministry, met with Deby in 2016 and said on Sunday that "Chad is a very important country in Africa and has great significance as a positive and stabilizing power in the region."

Gold added that "Chad once had diplomatic relations with Israel and severed them in 1972. When I asked the president's assistants why it did so, they said it was because of strong pressure by [former Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi. Today, there's no Qaddafi, so it's possible for relations to progress."

According to Gold, "when we looked at the map and looked at the strip of countries from Ghana to Sudan, we decided to work in this area, in the area of the Sahara and Maghreb countries. After we finished meetings with the prime minister, we traveled to the capital, N'Djamena, we traveled to an oasis some 40 kilometers from the border and spoke there with President Deby and with aides for an entire day in important discussions."

Deby has been president since 1990. In April's Chad's parliament approved a new constitution that expanded his powers and could allow him to serve until 2033.

Amnesty International noted in its 2017/2018 report on Chad: "Chadian authorities repeatedly banned peaceful assemblies and arrested and prosecuted human rights defenders, activists and journalists, some of whom became prisoners of conscience. The right to freedom of association was violated with unlawful restrictions on the right to organize freely, including the criminalization of certain citizens’ associations."

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