After nearly half a century of severed diplomatic ties between Israel and Chad, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a visit to re-establish relations.
Chadian President Idriss Déby and Netanyahu are expected to make the announcement in Chad. Currently, 32 countries – most of which are Islamic – either do not recognize the state of Israel or lack diplomatic channels with them. The Jewish nation has been in something of a cold war with the Muslim world, but the fact that Chad is willing to resume relations may be a sign that relations are beginning to thaw.
During his visit in Israel, Déby said to the press that “the relations between our countries were cut in 1972 for specific historic reasons, but our special relations continued all the time.”
“The people have been intoxicated with anti-Israeli propaganda…”
To the outside observer, Chad may seem like a remote and unimportant country. However, while the arid, land-locked country of only 13 million is one of the poorest in the world, it is nevertheless watched carefully and with great interest by other Islamic states, who may consider doing the same.
The meeting is part of a broader diplomatic push by Israel. Netanyahu has been courting the Gulf-state Bahrain to establish relations and recently visited Oman to do the same. And there is more to come: “There will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” Netanyahu said.
However, many are skeptical. Professor Efraim Inbar of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv explains that the elite and ordinary people have different attitudes:
“The people have been intoxicated with anti-Israeli propaganda, and they are subjected to Muslim anti-Semitism, but the elite [is] more politically oriented and they see Israel as an ally against Iran.
Eventually what counts is strategic interests, economic interests, and people overcome their religious tendencies, if they are not extremist or radical.”
As such, Chad is a test case. Will President Déby survive his decision politically? At home, he has met resistance from opposition leaders and civil society groups. Chad’s Alliance of Civil Associations for Jerusalem condemned Déby’s visit to Israel: “We strongly denounce the president’s visit to the Zionist entity.”
We can only speculate what incentives Déby had for his trip, but some form of economic development deal and financial benefit is highly likely. The plan may be to show that Israel can help Chad prosper through investments and technology transfer, not unlike what Netanyahu offered to the people of Iran.
The strategy is banking on the notion that most ordinary people are not ideologically possessed, but rather pragmatic and opportunistic. President Donald Trump’s approval rating has improved in the wake of economic growth and record low unemployment, and Netanyahu seems to aim for the same.
Whether this strategy will succeed remains to be seen, but if Déby comes out of this process strengthened as a leader, other nations may quickly follow suit. The political elites’ number-one priority is to affirm their positions of power, and if making friends with Israel helps them in that pursuit, so be it.
Can Trump play a role as a catalyst in this process? His personal connection with the new Saudi regime indicated this as a possibility, but the killing of Khashoggi may have cluttered those plans. It is still too early to say if it undermined the chance of peace, but any informed observer should evaluate the president’s insistence on selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia in the context of a broader peace process.
If this is Trump’s plan, he can’t say so directly, and is therefore forced to officially focus only on the economic benefit to the U.S. as his primary motivation.
One thing is sure: Netanyahu is doing everything he can to make friends in the Muslim world, and with the normalization of relations with Chad, his efforts are starting to pay off.