Israel keeps an eye on developments in the domestic political and security situation in Sudan as well as changes in Chad, Sudan’s western neighbor, particularly in the Darfur region. As soon as Benjamin Netanyahu retook control of Israel, he quickly picked up previous negotiations with Sudan to launch and implement the Abrahamic Normalization Agreement, the first memorandum of which was signed in 2020.
In a similar vein, Chadian Interim President Mohamed Idriss Deby visited Tel Aviv to inaugurate the country’s embassy and establish full diplomatic ties with the current Israeli administration.
Prior to these developments, on 27 January 2023, the Transitional Sovereignty Council Chairman Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, and his deputy, the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Dagalo, made “separate visits” to Chad to speak with the newly elected Chadian Transitional Council about security and economic issues pertaining to agriculture.
I- Economy and Security
Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked Israeli Mossad Director David Barnea (who specialized in Iranian affairs before he became director of the Israeli Mossad) with making initial contact with Chad’s Transitional Council Head Mohamed Idriss Deby in an effort to revive stalled diplomatic ties between the two countries since Chad’s 2019 agreement to restore normal ties. Mohamed Deby’s successful visit to Tel Aviv occurred amidst confidential communications between the two parties, and the Chadian embassy was recently inaugurated.
In 2018, during the visit of Idriss Deby, the former president of Chad, to Israel, Netanyahu declared: “Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel.” He made it clear at the time that Israel would concentrate on battling terrorism and bolstering the field of security and defense. However, Israel’s focus appears to have widened. During Mohamed Deby’s visit to Israel on 1 February 2023, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel will concentrate on deeper issues, specifically agriculture, in addition to security and military matters.
This statement matched the itinerary of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s (previously Minister of Intelligence in the Netanyahu administration in 2021) visit to Sudan on 2 February 2023 (one day after the visit to Chad). The Israeli minister met with Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, the president of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, and emphasized Israel’s focus on economic issues like trade and agriculture. This is in line with the conclusions of the Abrahamic Accord of October 2020, which was mediated by the Donald Trump administration of the United States. According to the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Khartoum will prioritize agriculture as a fundamental tenet of its relations with Israel.
All of the aforementioned is in complete accordance with Israel’s new foreign policy tenet toward Africa, which is based on “food security in exchange for coordinating in the fight against terrorism.” The Israeli Foreign Minister under the Bennett-Lapid government articulated this principle when he stated that the equation in which relations develop with Africa is based on the principle of cooperation to provide food security for millions, in exchange for developing cooperation to combat terrorism. It is important to note that Israel announced this new principle in June 2022 during a diplomatic video conference that was hosted by the Israeli embassy in Paris.
The separate meetings between Sudan, represented by Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan and his deputy Dagalo with the new President of Chad on 27 January 2023, during the covert agreements between Israel and Chad, suggest that there may be a triangle of relations between Israel, Chad, and Sudan. The agreements reached between the two parties included recognition of the threat posed by global and regional food insecurity, as well as the need to expand economic horizons into agricultural, transportation, trade, and technological sectors.
Taking a closer look at the agricultural initiatives that link Sudan and Chad, the following can be concluded: 1) According to the UNHCR website, there is an agricultural project in Chad that empowers Sudanese refugees and the local population to be self-sufficient and strengthens ties between the Sudanese and Chadian communities; 2) this project has become a significant learning opportunity for international institutions seeking to resettle refugees and integrate them into projects that contribute to food security; and 3) Chad’s agricultural industry as a whole failed to address the country’s lack of food security. In order to make the experiences of resettling refugees and displaced persons as a result of border wars successful and to address the shortage in food security, Sudan and Chad therefore want to expand these projects. In light of this, Israel is attempting to portray itself as a contributor to the two countries’ food security as well as to the fight against terrorism and the infiltration of armed elements in exchange for African countries allowing Israel to have a presence on the continent.
In this vein, it can be argued that cooperation in the areas of security, agriculture, and food security are some of the telltale signs that could encourage the development of a triangle of relations between Israel, Sudan, and Chad. Cooperation in the fight against terrorism is stipulated in each and every document signed between these countries. During his visit to Chad, the president of Sudan discussed the need for security cooperation to enforce stability along their shared border and deter armed infiltration. Additionally, Mohamed Dagalo, the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, made several trips to Israel as soon as normal relations between Sudan and Israel were established in 2020. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel may have also exported spy equipment to Dagalo.
II- Political Aspects of the Potential Triangle
In the context of the ongoing normalization of relations between Sudan and Chad and Israel, domestic political issues are as present as food and security issues.
Before dismantling the equation of political considerations and its transformation into a catalyst for normalization with Israel, reference must be made to the Strategic Assessment for Israel 2023, which highlighted the need to use the Biden administration to speed up the Israeli normalization train with Arab, African, and Islamic countries and to look for new political formulas for the Abrahamic Accords. In this respect, Israel is capitalizing on the US’ adoption of democratic and human rights principles in its foreign policy and international dealings, which has caused ongoing worry for some countries, particularly those that are subject to US sanctions or are surrounded by people who fear being included in sanctions, like Sudan and Chad.
Sudan and Chad have come to the realization that they can convince the US Congress and the White House of the political changes taking place in the two countries by entering through the Israeli gate. This is especially true for Sudan, which is still on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and has not yet received the promised US aid since the Trump administration. Washington continues to associate the reinstatement of aid with the cessation of Sovereignty Council procedures and the return to the path leading to a transitional civilian government.
As Khartoum has previously been accused of facilitating Iranian activity in the region, Sudan links the possibility of ending this to Israel. Now that Israel is investigating Iranian regional activity, it can use this to its advantage by convincing the United States that Sudan has no intention of aiding Iranian activity. Consequently, given that the Sudanese Military Council has no plans to suddenly storm the political scene and seize power, the next step will be to remove Sudan from the lists of terrorism.
The same is true for Chad, whose Transitional Council is harmed by the expansion of armed groups in both southern Libya and northern Chad. The Chadian Transitional Council is also becoming more and more aware that Western interventions, led by the United States and France, obstruct stability and the formation of a national state because Western countries try to keep the parties that prioritize preserving their interests by simultaneously supporting the government and the opposition. This allows them to do so and maintain control over the situation from all angles.
As such, to further consolidate its power and impose political stability in its favor at the expense of the opposition, the Chadian government hopes to use the close relationship between Israel and the United States to win American backing for the Chadian Transitional Council, led by Mohamed Deby.
III- Algeria: A Target for Israel?
Israel views Iran as an existential threat, not only in terms of its nuclear program, ballistic missile program, and regional activities in the Arabian Peninsula, but also in terms of its deep-seated existence in Africa. In August 2021, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid publicly expressed his displeasure with Algeria’s remarkable rapprochement with Iran. Lapid took advantage of his visit to Morocco to reiterate these concerns.
Israel has always pursued a strategy known as the “periphery policy” to end its isolation in the region. So, in the same way that Israel established official relations with Saudi Arabia’s regional neighbors, such as the UAE and Bahrain to the east, Sudan to the west, and Jordan to the north, in order to force Saudi Arabia to accept normalization, it is attempting to encircle Algeria by normalizing relations with Chad, Sudan, and Morocco. Israel’s paving the way for improved ties with Niger (southern Algeria) implies this.
Prior to the end of Netanyahu’s previous term, in March 2021, he started talks with Niger through Eli Cohen, his then-intelligence minister (now the current foreign minister). According to Cohen, the US administration was intrigued by this change, and with Washington’s assistance, Israel can build a bridge with these countries through its noteworthy contributions.
The same holds true for the Republic of Mali, which has held previous negotiations with Israel since 2017 and Israel’s restoration of diplomatic ties with African countries like Rwanda, Gabon, and Chad has given Mali the green light. The Malian president was scheduled to visit Israel in January 2022, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is continuing to coordinate this visit.
Looking at the map above, it is evident that Senegal is situated in the same direction, with Israel completing the chain of normalization with arid countries that border the southern Sahel States, specifically southern Libya, Algeria, and Mauritania. For its part, Mauritania came dangerously close to restoring relations with Israel (since they were cut off following the 2009 Gaza War), but it ultimately decided against it. The Mauritanian Republic’s jurists unanimously decided to oppose normalization with Israel especially after growing reports that Israel is willing to send an abundance of Covid-19 vaccines to Nouakchott.
Concerns about Algeria’s policy in Africa and its effort to build up all-encompassing power capabilities (economic and military) have permeated Israeli policy circles. Israel observes a growing rapprochement between Algeria and the capitals of Europe as they look for alternatives to Russian gas. This gives Algeria significant political wiggle room with regard to Europe.
Algeria is also in the process of establishing a series of energy projects with nearby African countries like Niger and Nigeria to build a gas pipeline that will begin in Nigeria. It is noteworthy that Algeria accounts for 12.6 percent of Africa’s energy imports to Europe.
Observable Algerian influence within the African Union (AU) has emerged after the Israeli observer delegation was kicked out of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on 18 February 2023, with Algeria leading a political campaign with African capitals to withdraw observer status from Israel in the AU.
All of this causes Israel concern, whether in terms of a decline in its presence or influence, or in terms of the level of influence enjoyed by its strategic ally Morocco, as every increase in Algerian power has a negative impact on Morocco’s overall capacity. Algeria’s use of the gas weapon to sway Spain away from backing Morocco in the Moroccan Sahara issue is proof of this.
As part of its efforts to join the BRICS group (which Algeria and Iran are likely to be nominated for membership in), the Algerian government is also developing a number of energy and military projects to impose economic and security stability in the region of Africa. If successful, this membership could advance bilateral relations between Algeria and Iran.
Israel does not completely rule out the possibility that Algeria could use the radioactive nuclear resources found underground in nearby African countries to power its nuclear reactors, which it intends to do as part of its energy transition strategy to meet the country’s expanding domestic electricity needs.
So, Tel Aviv is trying to increase its presence in Africa through less conventional diplomatic means, such as through food security, the fight against terrorism, and new arrangements for renewable energy that will help Morocco compete with Algeria’s nonrenewable energy (natural gas in particular) monopoly. This represents a shift in Israeli politics regarding Africa, as the country has hitherto only relied on security approaches through its security and military institutions.
This was demonstrated by agreements Morocco and Israel signed to create new technologies in the field of green hydrogen, where an energy agreement was signed by the Moroccan National Energy Transition Consortium (MNETC) and the Israel National Energy Research Consortium (INERC) as well as a memorandum of understanding to transfer Israeli technology in the field of solar energy, electricity economy, and storage. Additionally, Israeli businesses purchased sizable stakes in Moroccan renewable energy businesses.
Furthermore, the Moroccan-Israeli alliance has not been without security cooperation, as evidenced by the establishment of two drone factories and their use in the war against terrorism (i.e., Israel intends to use military platforms in place of light weapons with the intention of re-exporting them to African countries via Morocco).
IV- Challenges Facing Israel in Africa
Several challenges stand in the way of Israel’s aspirations in Africa, particularly with its neighbors Algeria and Morocco. These challenges can be explained as follows:
1- The Unsteady Security Environment
Between 1 January 2022 and 30 June 2022, 699 terrorist attacks were recorded in Africa, resulting in 5,412 deaths. Nigeria, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, and Mali were the countries most impacted by these attacks (listed in descending order). Strategic analyses in the field of counterterrorism, such as the report of the African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT), indicate that violent terrorist activities have resumed in West Africa, severely damaging critical infrastructure and that despite the numerous efforts made by the state authorities to combat terrorism, it appears that terrorist structures are resilient.
This is an admission that the major countries, led by the United States, have failed to effectively combat terrorism in Africa. Further supporting this idea is a recent report from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS, the premier Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies) which claims that the United States has not been successful in its efforts to combat terrorism in Africa, and more specifically West Africa. An analysis by the ACSS published in September 2022 concluded: “The western Sahel has seen a quadrupling in the number of militant Islamist group events.”
This proves that the perception among African countries, particularly ones in West Africa, that Israel will be their entry point to closer strategic cooperation with the United States is false, as the United States has already increased its military assistance to these countries without producing any more fruitful outcomes.
2- Trade Relations between Iran and West Africa
By fostering trade ties with countries in the West African region and relying on them for dubious activities like money laundering and drug trafficking through its Lebanese agent Hezbollah, Iran appears to have turned the region into a focal point for consolidating its presence in Africa.
On 9 January 2023, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that Tehran could build shipping lines in the West African region and develop win-win relations with countries in the area based on shared advantages in the fields of commerce, industry, agriculture, and fishing, which would foster political and economic stability.
Iran has generally opened eight trading hubs in Africa. The number of these centers, which are currently spread across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, and South Africa, will rise in March of this year.
To promote trade, Iran sent hundreds of businesspeople and commercial attachés to four trade fairs in Africa, as well as held specialized meetings with civil society in African countries (East and West Africa).
Iran’s activity extends beyond just the commercial and economic sphere and includes the military and security spheres as well. According to reports from Africa, Iran intends to use Mali (southern Algeria) to increase its presence in the West African region. Some reports claim that Iran has used drones in recent conflicts in Ethiopia and Somalia, which has fueled speculation that Iran plans to increase its arms sales to Africa (especially in the West).
3- The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict’s Interminable Deadlock
The majority of African countries with a sordid history of foreign colonialism are against the Palestinian-Israeli conflict’s continuing lack of a political resolution.
Additionally, the fact that the current Israeli government is the most hardline far-right in Israeli history and that it actively contributes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will only heighten African countries’, particularly Islamic ones’, animosity toward Israel’s policies.
4- Russian Presence in Africa
Israel is aware that Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan hopes to hasten the integration of the Rapid Support Forces, under the command of Dagalo, into the Sudanese army. Dagalo continues to wave the card of approving the establishment of a Russian military base on the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea, a file that carries a whiff of danger for Israel, which is observing a strengthening of military ties between Russia and Iran in the region.
According to strategic readings, Dagalo is connected to the Russian Wagner forces via the Rapid Support Forces and maintains close ties with Moscow, which he visited with the outbreak of the Ukrainian War.
If Israel backed Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan’s decision to oppose the construction of a Russian military base or participated in US efforts to drive the Russian Wagner forces close to the Kremlin out of Sudan and other African countries, this could signal the start of yet another conflict between Israel and Russia. If this conflict is left unresolved, it could have unfavorable consequences for Israel’s national security in Syria or serve as a pretext for Israeli diplomacy in front of Moscow to isolate Iran and Russia.
In conclusion, it could be argued that Israel has a propensity for extending its sphere of influence and presence in the sub-Saharan countries’ belt, south of the Sahel. This belt begins in northern Sudan, passes through Chad and Niger, and ends in Senegal, which overlooks the Atlantic. In essence, such a belt serves multiple functions, the most significant of which is the encirclement of Algeria, a country with hostile policies toward Israel in Africa but amicable relations with Russia and Iran.
In general, the Israeli strategy is built on two main pillars: fighting terrorism and improving food security. However, it is constrained by a number of factors, including the presence of Iran and Russia.