Chad President Visits Israel: Renewed Diplomatic Ties Won't Eliminate Palestinian Problem

Chad officials: President's visit to focus on security, Israel provided weapons to our army ■ This is the first visit by a Chadian president since Israel was founded in 1948

A joint press conference of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chad President Idriss Déby in Jerusalem, November 25, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom GPO

The Republic of Chad President Idriss Deby said during his historic visit to Israel that "the cutting of diplomatic ties in the 1970s did not prevent good relations" between the two nations, though renewed ties will not remove the Palestinian problem.

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

"We have a shared struggle," Deby said during a joint statement to the media alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "against the sickening evil of this century, which is terrorism."

Idriss Deby arriving at Ben Gurion airport, November 25, 2018.
Avi Hayoun/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Deby said that "all the options are open" for cooperation between the two nations. He continued to say that he hopes for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that "open dialogue is the basis" for any solution.

Netanyahu said that he and President Deby spoke of "changes in relations between Israel and the Arab world" and said that he will be visiting other Arab countries "very soon." 

A second meeting took place later on Sunday during dinner.

Deby also met with President Reuven Rivlin Sunday evening, telling him that renwed ties "won't eliminate the Palestinian problem. You've lived through difficult history and it's important that people speak to one another. It's very easy to pull the trigger and very difficult to stop the war."

Meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Chad President Idriss Déby in Jerusalem, November 25, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

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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.

Chad President Idriss Deby shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, November 25, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom GPO

"This is another diplomatic breakthrough," Netanyahu said during Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "A historic visit will be held here today with the president of Chad, a large, important African country."  

"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."