N’DJAMENA - Israel and Chad have renewed diplomatic ties that were severed in 1972.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in the country on Sunday morning for a quick visit, the first of its kind to the African country since relations soured.
Speaking in a joint press conference later Sunday, Chad President Idriss Deby told Netanyahu that he would like to welcome him to the country and wished him a pleasant stay. "The purpose of your visit is to bring our two countries closer and to cooperate," Deby told the Israeli premier.
He then said that he happily welcomed several agreements he has signed with Netanyahu, including the renewal of diplomatic ties.
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Netanyahu said that Israel was announcing today "a renewal of diplomatic ties with Chad and making a breakthrough for the Arab and Muslim world."
The prime minister called the diplomatic achievement "a result of strenuous work of recent years" and said that together, he and Deby were "making history."
"There are those who tried to sabotage this trip, but they were unsuccessful," he continued, alluding to Iranian and Palestinian displeasure over the warmer ties with the country.
Netanyahu told Deby that it was very significant for Israel that a Muslim-majority country is seeking Israel's friendship, and that he "believes in Chad and in Africa's future."
Netanyahu was also received by Chad's Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene and other senior officials.
Netanyahu will have lunch with Deby before flying back to Israel.
The premier hinted that he would be visiting other Muslim countries as he departed for Chad early Sunday.
Noting that Chad shares borders with Libya and Sudan, Netanyahu said that his visit was "part of the dramatic change we are making in the Muslim and Arab world."
The prime minister said this change was "very disturbing, and even enraging, for Iran and for the Palestinians, who are trying to prevent this. They did not succeed.
"And second: there will be more to come," Netanyahu said. Asked for a timeframe, Netanyahu said: "A little patience. But not long."
Deby came to Israel in November and met with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. He said that “the cutting of diplomatic ties in the 1970s did not prevent good relations,” which continued all the same.
In his statement to the media alongside Netanyahu, Deby said: “We have a shared struggle against the sickening evil of this century, which is terrorism.”
Netanyahu said at that press conference that he and Deby had talked about “changes in relations between Israel and the Arab world” and that he would be visiting some Arab countries “very soon.”
But Deby said that renewed ties between the two countries “won’t eliminate the Palestinian problem,” noting that he has reiterated at the United Nations that he hopes for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Chad is one of the 30 poorest nations in the world. Because of its location in north-central Africa it has been a destination for refugees from neighboring countries, especially Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Chad’s population of 15.8 million consists of numerous ethnic groups, with a Muslim majority of 52 percent. Sixty percent of Chad’s revenue is from oil exports and the rest is from agriculture.
Before Deby’s visit to Israel, sources in Chad told Reuters that he would focus on security issues – after Israel supplied Chad last year with weapons and equipment to fight rebels in the north of the country. In response to a question from Haaretz in November during Deby’s tour of southern Israel, he said Israel was an important ally in the fight against terror. He did not deny the arms deals.
According to foreign sources, in the 1980s Israel supplied weapons to the security forces of Chad’s dictator at the time, Hissene Habre, who was recently sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. According to Amnesty International, Chad’s current government prevents nonviolent assembly, arrests human rights activists and journalists, and has imposed severe restrictions on organizing, criminalizing some civil society organizations.
In 2005, Deby, who has ruled Chad since 1990, changed the country’s constitution to allow him to be elected for a third term. International observers said that elections Deby won had many irregularities.
Last April, Chad’s parliament approved a further change in the constitution that expanded Deby’s powers and allowed him to remain in office until 2033. The opposition parties boycotted the vote, which abolished the office of prime minister and made Chad’s regime presidential, with the intention of turning the country into a monarchy.
In July 2016, the then-director general of the Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, visited Chad as part of the countries’ efforts to improve relations. He was told that Chad had cut ties with Israel due to pressure by Libya – pressure that ended when the Gadhafi regime fell in 2011.
The leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, said Saturday that she would ask the Foreign Ministry to publish Netanyahu’s complete schedule for the visit and the list of participants “to ensure that no dubious arms deals are concluded.”
Zandberg said it was important for Israel to develop and expand its foreign relations, “but it was also important to examine with whom and at what cost.”
As she put it, “Netanyahu is distancing himself methodically from liberal democracies and establishing relationships with dictators responsible for the persecution of LGBT people and the arresting of journalists. Many of these relationships are based on arms deals,” thus she requested a full accounting of Netanyahu’s schedule during his visit.