The President of Chad, Idriss Deby, made an unannounced visit to Israel, arriving yesterday. Why is this important? Because Chad is a predominantly Muslim country which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Ties were cut in 1972 under pressure from the Arab States prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973. But, according to Idriss, contacts remained “under the radar,” and these will now be expanded in the open.
Whatever criticisms one might have of PM Netanyahu, this is another feather in his cap, since he has been making a point of visiting leaders around the world and remaking relationships that had been broken many years ago. Recently he visited Bulgaria and perhaps his most important breakthrough was his recent visit to Oman, an Arab State, where he and other Israelis have been received with dignity. A Foreign Ministry spokesman from Oman at an international conference in Rome stated recently, “The Arab States need to come to terms with the reality that Israel is a fact of life in the region and as such it should share in the rights as well as the obligations.”
There are two main reasons for this turn-around. First is the “I”-word, Iran. All the Sunni Muslim countries are afraid of the expansionist militaristic regime in Iran that wants to spread its Shia version of Islam and is threatening all of them. This is especially true of the Gulf States, that feel not only exposed to nearby Iran, but also left in a power vacuum, where neither the US nor Saudi Arabia can cope with the Iranian military threat. They turn to Israel as a potential local ally in this regard.
Second, it is undeniable that for their adherence to the Arab narrative they have received essentially nothing, no aid, no assistance, no support. On the contrary, some of these Muslim countries in Africa face desperate economic situations and they see Israel growing ever stronger economically. They well remember that Israel had a flourishing support program in Africa that delivered not aid in financial packages, but training and support to develop their agriculture and industries. This approach by Israel is precisely what these countries need. The Palestinians can offer them nothing.
Further, the relatively affluent and successful small Gulf countries are much more similar to Israel than they are to the poor and devastated formerly radicalized countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya. Netanyahu has stated that visits and meetings with other Arab countries will follow soon, and the whole complexion of the Middle East will change.