Israel’s door swings both ways for Africa
PM Netanyahu added two new African conquests Wednesday: He met Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma in the morning and welcome a high-powered delegation from SA’s official opposition Democratic Alliance later in the day, Koroma is in Jerusalem accompanied by his Foreign, Agriculture, Communications and Water Ministers. By all accounts the meeting had far-reaching outcomes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and his ministerial delegation. The two leaders discussed the possibility of an Israeli delegation going to Sierra Leone to evaluate assistance in various fields: Water, Communications, Energy and Security.
The possibility that Israel might enlist other countries to assist Sierra Leone was also raised.
“President Koroma, it’s a pleasure to welcome you and your delegation to Jerusalem. I appreciate our friendship. It dates back to the 1960s and it’s continued since then.” said Netanyahu opening the meeting.
RIGHT: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Bai Koroma (Kobi Gideon, GPO)
Netanyahu reminded Koroma that they “had the opportunity to meet at the UN in an extraordinary exhibit of Israeli technology in Africa, and you expressed the interest of strengthening the ties between us.”
Netanyahu said that he thought “this is fertile ground, literally, and in many ways. Fertile ground in the sense of, obviously, assisting you in your main endeavor which is agriculture, but also in other areas,” said Bibi, suggesting that opportunities existed “in high-tech, in energy, in water, the management of crops, the productivity of crops and many, many other areas.”
The Israeli leader said that his country, like the rest of the world, “watched with great concern the great battle that you fought against Ebola.” Israel thought that it was important, said the PM, adding for emphasis: “I thought it was important that Israel send assistance.”
Israel dispatched a field hospital and became one of the African country’s major cash donors as well. “We have other assistance that we’re offering in the field of health, like the dialysis centre in Freetown Hospital and drugs, medicine. But the most important thing is that you have contained this disease,” said Netanyahu, “and you’re overcoming it, and we know what a great battle that was and what a burden it still is – the residual effects.”
Equally, said the PM, he knew that the country had suffered “the ruins of a horrible civil war from which you’re recovering now.” Israel, said Netanyahu, wanted to offer assistance, to help build Sierra Leone to a brighter and better future.
“This is something that you are leading and we’re more than ready to help Sierra Leone rebuild its country and build a future for its people,” said the PM..
It was in that spirit, said Netanyahu, that he welcome President Koroma to Jerusalem.
“You know that Israel is coming back to Africa in a big way, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu..
He reiterated his intention to visit West Africa in 2017, “at least once, possibly twice, for a gathering of leaders, so this will be an opportunity to meet you again as this one is an opportunity to further strengthen our ties,” said the PM in his welcome address.
For his part, President Koroma’s began his opening address saying: “Let me at the outset express profound sympathy to the victims and the families of victims of the recent truck attack here in Jerusalem.
“Any act of violence, any wanton destruction of lives and properties anywhere demands condemnation by everyone,” he said. While he deplored the attack, Koroma said: “I believe that the cause to a lasting solution of every conflict is not the shedding of innocent blood. It is in the exercise of restraint and constructive dialogue. This may be long, tiring and painful, but ultimately it is the surest path for a peaceful resolution to conflict.”
Koroma pointed out that relations between Sierra Leone and Israel pre-dated the independence of both countries, and, like many long-standing relationships, “we have experienced some turbulence,” he said. “But history has taught us that while we may remember, we may do well not to dwell on the dull moments, especially when the lights of the bright movements continue to sparkle.”
President Koroma said that he was heartened by Israel’s efforts in rebuilding relations with Africa. “To this end I applaud your recent visit to a number of African countries and your unique and historic meeting with African leaders in the October UN General Assembly meeting,” he said.
“Sierra Leone is grateful to the government and the people of the State of Israel for the support you provided us during our very difficult moment in the fight against Ebola. It is only a friend will support a friend that is in need. And the Sierra Leonean people are most grateful for that.”
Rekindling long-standing fraternal relationship
Koroma’s closing words are reprinted verbatim from the PM’s website:
“Mr Prime Minister, we believe that it is about time to rekindle our long-standing bilateral fraternal relationship. My delegation and I are in Israel to strengthen those political and economic ties founded by those before us.
“We are here to seek greater cooperation in the various fields and aspects of socio-economic development including in agriculture, in water, ICT, defense and security. I am delighted to have been exposed to the capacity of Israel.
“In the past few hours we have had meetings of various sectors and we believe that we are here to cooperate at a government-to-government level and also invite the Israeli private sector to go out there and explore investment opportunities. I believe that both countries can work strongly together in the interest of both countries, in our efforts in repositioning our relationship as it was just about independence.
“Let me also seize this moment to extend an invitation to you in your next tour of Africa to visit Sierra Leone.”
Israel considers the option of war with Iran
Israelis are being asked again whether or not they support a proactive strike on Iran, even at the risk of starting a war. The overwhelming majority – more than 70% – say yes!
In a recent poll, just more than one in two also said that Israel should have attacked Iran years ago during the “early stages” of its nuclear development rather than wait for a negotiated settlement.
The debate is back in the news after last week’s reports that Jerusalem had approved $1.5 billion (R22.1 billion) for aircraft, intel-gathering drones, and unique armaments needed for a potential strike on Iran.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that even more funds would be necessary. “Israel is challenged militarily on many fronts,” he said, “the most significant threat facing Israel – and the one for which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) most needs to allocate its resources – is Iran and its nuclear programme”.
The goal of an Israeli strike on Tehran would be twofold.
Primarily, it would aim at preventing the regime from being able to build an atomic bomb. From the start, the previous Israeli government under then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was against the July 2015 nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers.
Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear programme and open its facilities to more extensive international inspection in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.
But three years later, to Israel’s delight, former American president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and since then, the Islamic Republic has again started to ramp up its nuclear activities. It has also refused access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to repair surveillance equipment damaged in a June attack on a nuclear site that has been blamed on Israel.
The blast destroyed a camera and heavily damaged another, although it’s unknown how many cameras are there in total.
There is now renewed rigor by the current American administration and European powers to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, but their patience is running thin. Tehran is stalling, even more so after ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won the presidential election in June.
The second goal of a potential IDF strike on Iran would be to reduce the country’s efforts, through its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, to establish a permanent base of operation on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, close to the Israeli border.
In recent months Israel has conducted numerous strikes on Syria, the latest reportedly on Monday morning, 25 October, to prevent precisely this.
But such attacks are becoming more difficult for Israel as Syria continuously improves its air defence capabilities, partly due to upgraded Iranian-made components. Iran also recently begun deploying advanced air defence systems in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon to protect its forces and proxies in those countries from Israeli strikes.
In a five-hour meeting last Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to maintain Moscow’s tacit acceptance of these strikes.
In spite of the fact that Bennett has replaced Netanyahu (only temporarily, many Israelis would tell you), the county’s leadership is on the same page when it comes to Iran.
Everyone – as in the Israeli political elite and the public – understands that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would effectively amount to declaring a war. For this reason, most in Israel would prefer the United States and Western countries to take the lead and for Israel not to have to shoulder the full responsibility and consequences of an attack on Iran.
There is also a lot of tension in the Islamic world, and Tehran is far from popular. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in the Gulf that Israel recently signed peace treaties with, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are also concerned about Iran’s nuclear capability. But their messages are ambiguous, and it seems that their preference, at least in the short term, would be for actions short of war.
What’s more, an Israeli assault on a major Muslim country could very well unite Arab countries against the Jewish state.
First prize for Israel, of course, would be if any of these countries came on board a planned Iranian strike. But if they don’t, and before Iran’s nuclear programme reaches the point of no return, there seems to be an understanding in Israel that she would have to strike alone.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has admitted that Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear programme.
Already at the beginning of the year, Kohavi publicly declared that Israel was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike. Two months ago, he admitted that Iran’s nuclear progress had prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans”. Reports suggest that an IDF strike plan is in the “draft stage”.
But an Israeli strike on Iran presents numerous challenges. In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground and that require specialised munitions and tactics, the Israeli Air Force will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defences in order to conduct such a strike. The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.
The Iranians, for their part, have sounded a note of defiance in the face of Israeli threats.
One of Iran’s most senior leaders recently threatened that if Israel attacked its nuclear programme, the country’s response would require Israel to spend “tens of thousands of billion dollars” to reconstruct the country.
Israel views the Iranian nuclear project as a near existential threat. Amidst the international community’s hesitancy regarding Tehran’s real intentions and reluctance to take action – at least for now – Jerusalem will increasingly prepare for a D-Day when it might just be forced to go the road alone.
Israel’s vaccination rules may hinder South Africans, olim advocate says
Travelling to Israel may get easier soon, but with some rules that could hold South Africans back. According to former member of the Knesset (MK) Dov Lipman, from 1 November 2021, travellers to Israel may have to have a third booster shot, or have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 within six months of their visit. “Those who were vaccinated more than six months ago may have a challenge in entering Israel. We are trying to influence the decision for the better,” he says.
As some time has passed since most South African Jews received their vaccines, and with no possibility of a third booster shot being offered anytime soon, this may make travelling to Israel difficult. Lipman is concerned that tourists who have access to third booster shots may be able to travel to Israel, but relatives of olim may be left out in the cold. Ironically, those who got vaccinated earliest may have the most difficulty, which he said is a “sad” reality.
Not all superheroes wear capes – some of them wear kippot – and Lipman is doing everything he can to stop this from happening. His organisation, Yad L’Olim, works to help olim thrive in Israel and lobbies the Knesset to drive government policies that provide new immigrants with the tools that they need to succeed in Israel.
Lipman did just that in a speech to the Knesset on 12 October. Addressing ministers and MKs, he said, “Right now, they are talking about a new plan. They are talking about tourists who will come from all over the world. There are countries with Zionistic Jews whose family members made aliyah. And they have no ability to get the third vaccine dose. They have no ability to get it. So what’s going to happen? We’re going to have a state filled with tourists from all around the world who don’t have any special connection to Israel, and I am happy that they will come.
“But families who supported their family member’s decision to move to Israel won’t have the ability to come here. There must be an outcry from Knesset, from MKs and ministers, not to allow this to happen,” he said. “Yes, open the country to tourists, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. But let there be a plan. Actually, continue with the current policy enabling relatives who cannot get a third shot to come, and especially for there to be a true exceptions committee.
“There should be an easy to use link for those who have family weddings, Bar/Batmitzvahs or births. You cannot close the door on olim and their families when you are opening the door to tourists. I call on all of you to be our voices and take care of this.”
Lipman says that though Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wasn’t there when he spoke, “two MKs from his party were, and we’re now following up on what I said”. He says olim are already coming to him with concerns that their families may not be able to visit.
“We’re trying to make sure that they have the right balance of not shutting the door on everyone while changing the rules. Things are still in flux regarding final decisions. I’m recommending to anyone who can get a shot [vaccine], whether it’s a booster, or their first one, or someone who has recovered [from COVID-19] last year, if you can get one, I’m recommending that. Because it will ease your ability to get into Israel after 1 November, and that would apply even if you didn’t have a first-degree relative in Israel.”
He says he spoke out because “I’m concerned that there’s no mechanism in place for first-degree relatives to visit if they haven’t been vaccinated according to Israel’s requirements. And I believe that if people are going to undergo a full quarantine, testing, and the like, then there should be an option.
“Israel needs to be a place where olim know that their families can come. And yes, we have to take health concerns into account, and I’m not suggesting therefore just to open things up. But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of families of olim coming. I also know that there are exceptions for weddings and births, and things like that, but the process has been complicated and not easy to use. I’d rather make it as user-friendly as possible for the benefit of olim and their families.”
Israel’s status on agenda of AU executive
On the eve of the meeting of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) this week, there has been much speculation about whether Israel’s recent granting of observer status will be debated, and if calls for the decision to be rescinded will be heard.
The announcement in July that Israel had been granted observer status at the AU drew sharp reaction from several countries on the continent, including South Africa.
Last week, International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Naledi Pandor met her Palestinian counterpart, Riad Malki, and again expressed dissatisfaction with Israel’s status. (See story on page 1.)
During the official bilateral talks held at Dirco, Pandor said South Africa wasn’t party to the AU’s “shocking” decision to grant Israel observer status.
In July, Pretoria moved swiftly to lobby other Southern African Development Community states against the decision.
Many said the decision had been taken unilaterally by AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and expressed solidarity with Palestine.
Out of 55 member states, 46 enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel. There are about 17 member countries opposing observer status.
It’s understood that the matter was placed on the agenda of the AU executive council following complaints by some member states.
Professor Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State wrote recently that South Africa was “out of sync” with the views of most African heads of state. “Isolating Israel won’t work in promoting the well-being of Palestinians. This was tried for decades by Arab countries and has failed.”
Jean-Pierre Alumba Lukamba, the international director of the African Diaspora for Development, (ADD), told the SA Jewish Report this week that according to the guiding principles of the AU, Israel should be at the opening of the AU’s executive council meeting this week as an observer member for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The ADD has reiterated its call to African heads of state to maintain unanimously the admission of the state of Israel as an observer member.
In a statement, the ADD said, “The African people will derive great benefit from the state of Israel, which has notably established agricultural co-operatives, youth training centres, and medical facilities in countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Côte d’Ivoire.
“Israel supported the use of technology for the sustainable development of Africa in accordance with a resolution adopted by the United Nations,” it said, and it was “convinced” that admission to the AU of Israel would help to advance the African continent towards a better future for the well-being of African people.
The ADD joined its voice to those of other civil society organisations, and asked the African heads of state to include it on its agenda this week.
Earlier this week, the ADD held a peaceful rally in Abuja in support of Israel’s observer status.
Olubunmi Fagbuyiro, the Economic Community of West African States representative of the ADD, said that there was still concern about countries who opposed this observer status. “The AU should embrace Israel, as the country has already demonstrated its willingness for fruitful partnership with Africa,” Fagbuyiro said.
He said Israel had been pivotal in the provision of green energy, health infrastructure, and infrastructure for sustainable water supply in many countries on the continent. He noted Israel’s contribution to the fight against Ebola in Africa.
“It’s our view that the AU can play an important role in bringing about peace between Israel and Palestine, drawing on lessons from the African nationalist movements and the experiences of decolonisation and reconciliation following various conflicts can be used to inspire negotiation and peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has joined various African civil society organisations from across the continent in their call for African heads of state to reaffirm unanimously Israel’s admission as an observer member of the AU.
“Israel has had a mutually beneficial relationship with African states for more than 70 years. It has been at the forefront of efforts to help solve some of the most important developmental challenges on the continent. These include the areas of health, agriculture, youth development, water, education, and energy.
“The admission of Israel as an observer to the African Union, alongside more than 70 other countries, is a historic and welcome development. It should be celebrated and not undermined by those who aren’t interested in peace and prosperity on the continent,” it said.
The SAZF called on other organisations connected to Africa and its diaspora to sign a letter of support to the AU.
The letter is signed by prominent progressive international African organisations, companies, leaders, activists, youth movements, and trade unions. It says Israel’s admission seeks to “enhance the work of Israeli African co-operation on development programmes at bilateral and multilateral levels. Admittance is in the interests of peace and dialogue.”
Faki Mahamat accepted the credentials of Aleligne Admasu, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, on 22 July.
He said at the time that he hoped the move would contribute to the “intensification of the advocacy of the AU for the fulfilment of the principle of two states and the restoration of peace between Israel and Palestine” and reiterated the “unflinching commitment” of the AU to the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.
This included their “right to establish an independent national state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of a global, fair, and definitive peace between Israel and Palestine.”
Faki Mahamat said the reservations expressed by “a few members” about this decision justified his intention to include it on the agenda of this week’s session of the executive council.
Israel obtained AU observer status after 20 years of diplomatic efforts. It had previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.
Apart from South Africa, other countries opposing Israel’s member status include Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
Most other countries on the continent have sought closer ties with Israel, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, and have secured Israeli help, expertise, and investment in many areas from water and agriculture to tech start-ups.
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