Neighbors / A Friend in Africa

Southern Sudan may soon get independence, and Israel will have hundreds of ambassadors there - the recent repatriates

Early in Israel's history, when it wanted to establish informal relations with African states, it invited delegations of farmers to teach them how to raise vegetables and plant trees with abundant fruit. Later on, Israeli companies went to Africa to build palaces for the rulers and schools for the masses; after that they sold arms to countries and groups that were fighting each other.

Soon another independent nation is expected to be established in Africa. Israel will already have ambassadors there who speak Hebrew. This is Southern Sudan, whose population goes to the polls on January 9 for a referendum to decide whether to set up an independent state. Analysts say Southern Sudan will become independent, and it already has at least one friend.

Two months ago, the Southern Sudanese information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said that "the independent south will establish relations with all the countries of the world and will not be an enemy to anyone. There are diplomatic relations between some Arab states and Israel, so why not us?"

It's true his remarks stoked severe criticism in some Arab countries, and the Arab media hastened to report that Sudanese refugees who had opted for "voluntary repatriation" from Israel had landed at Juba Airport in Southern Sudan. Israel made do with a vague report that the refugees had been taken to "an African nation." If it was Southern Sudan, then the Israeli report recognized the new independent state in advance.

El Al flights

In October, the newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm quoted "informed sources in the Sudanese government" as saying that Israel had met with representatives of the Southern Sudanese government; the two sides agreed that Juba Airport would open to El Al flights starting next year. According to the report, an Israeli commercial group plans a luxurious hotel in Southern Sudan and another company has opened a brokerage firm.

Reports about Israel's relations with Southern Sudan are not new. Already in 2009, the Arab League's ambassador to Sudan, Salah Halima, complained that Israel was taking steps to help Southern Sudan secede. He said Israel and the Jewish lobby in the United States were "meddling" in affairs so Southern Sudan would gain independence.

A commentator wrote on the Business Daily Africa website two weeks ago that ties between Israel and Southern Sudan were returning to where they were in 1967 when Gen. Joseph Lagu, the founder of the South Sudanese rebel movement Anyanya ("snake poison" ), offered Israel help in preventing the Sudanese army from fighting alongside the Egyptians against Israel.

According to the professor, Lagu was invited by Prime Minister Golda Meir to Israel and received military training in the Israel Defense Forces as well as arms and equipment. The Israeli assistance was coordinated with friendly countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. The Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta, allowed Israeli planes to fly the equipment to Southern Sudan and to fuel in Nairobi. On their way back, they dropped bags of corn in Southern Sudanese villages.

One can learn about the feelings in Southern Sudan about Israel from the website After the report that Israel had a deep presence in Southern Sudan, a responder on the site by the name of Amat Allah wrote: "After the disengagement from Sudan, Israel will be one of the first countries that the south will invite to set up an embassy. Israel did not kill 2.5 million of our people as the Sudanese regime did. We, the Southern Sudanese, really don't care about the wars of 1967 or 1973 that the Arabs waged against Israel. What do you expect Israel to do when it is attacked from several directions?"

Someone else, who identified himself as "Survivor," reminded readers that Israel had had close relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa "that pushed the blacks to the fringes." Ali Abdel Latif responded: "It's true that Israel sold nuclear arms to South Africa, but that belongs to history. As for setting up an Israeli embassy in the south - do so at your own expense - and time will tell." This discourse will no doubt be joined by Israel's "new ambassadors," the hundreds of repatriates who have landed there and will surely be asked about their ties with the country that hosted them and now has forced them to leave.

Establishing relations

Last week, the newspaper Asharq Alawsat published an interview with Pagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, a key part of the Southern Sudanese government. He was asked about the possibility of establishing relations with Israel after independence. Amum did not confirm or deny anything; he did not confirm the remarks by the South Sudanese information minister. "We want peace and freedom," he said. "And we don't want any problems with our neighbors, those close or those far away."

The country most concerned about ties between Israel and the United States with Southern Sudan is Egypt. Dr. Amani al-Tawil, an expert on Sudanese affairs at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt, says Israel's entry there will speed up development, which will increase water use from the Nile at Egypt's expense. She is also worried that Southern Sudan will join forces with Nile Basin countries that want to change the rules for dividing water sources.

But the main thing is that Israel will get another friend and Micronesia will no longer be alone.