For some time, President Uhuru Kenyatta had been telling Chad President Idriss Déby that Israel was his best bet for help in consolidating his hold on power against rebel forces and Islamic terrorist inroads. Kenyatta himself, since coming to power five years ago, has drawn heavily on Israeli intelligence and security assistance for his personal protection, the creation of similar services in his own country and professional military advice for the Kenyan army’s battles against Al Shabaab (Al Qaeda’s offshoot in Somalia).
True to that advice, President Déby landed on Israel’s doorstep on Sunday, Nov. 25, fired up for soliciting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (since last week also Defense Minister) for assistance. He left two days later with a plan. Israel would establish in N’Djamena a joint military intelligence command center for managing the war operations in which the Chadian army took part on multiple fronts across Africa: The Maghreb (Northwest Africa), which includes Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania and the central African nations of Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.
Israel’s main contribution will be in the field of intelligence and logistics. Chad’s army already receives arms from Israel including anti-tank rockets, mortars and armored vehicles. From Chad, Israel receives rare metal ores.
President Déby’s ambitions go further than battling the Islamists. He hopes to use his ties with Israel as stepping-stones for taking charge of a new central African bloc on the lines of the East African alliance headed by Kenyatta, which too receives military aid from Israel. He envisions drawing Burkino Faso, Niger, Cameroon and the Central African Republic into this new alliance.
Netanyahu is therefore substantially lengthening Israel’s military and security footprint in the African continent, well beyond its established relations with the east African nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya.
Netanyahu first met Déby two years ago during a summit marathon with the rulers of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and South Sudan. He was visiting Uganda in July 2016 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe operation. During their joint statements, he welcomed those multiple summits “as heralding a new era in relations between Israel and the countries of Africa.”
DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that before embarking on his bid for Israel’s assistance, the Chad president conferred with officials of the Trump administration in Washington and French military and intelligence officials in Paris. The Americans gave his plan the green light and arranged for the operational headquarters Israel was to set up in N’Djamena to work hand in hand with the US Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany and the forward US commands in the field.
The French were a lot cooler about Israel’s entry to Francophone Africa. Déby was informed by the Elysêe that Paris would not hinder the Israeli-Chad connection, so long as all military operations in Africa with French military participation respected France’s interests and perception of the needs of the African nations involved, rather than the Israel command center’s directives. Paris had little choice in the matter after US endorsement but was careful to hedge its cooperation around with a row of ifs and buts.
DEBKA Weekly’s source report that Israel agreed to supervise Chadian military involvement in four sectors:
- The trickiest is southern Libya, where Chadian units have been battling Al Qaeda and ISIS. Their focus is on the Fasen region where Libya’s richest oil wealth is located and from which its largest pipelines transfer the oil to the country’s Mediterranean ports. In the last week of September, however, motorized Chad forces penetrated several hundred kilometers deep into this desert region and reached the Al Jaghbub Oasis, which is a part of the strategic Al Kufra Military Zone and controls a broad swath of oases and oil fields. Why does that matter? Because the Chadians, aiming to grab a foothold in this strategic part of Libya, engaged the dominant Subul Al-Salam Salafist Brigade, which happens to be a close ally of the powerful Libyan leader, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Indeed, Russia is in the middle of a drive for influence in Libya through its alliance with Haftar, who is also patronized by Egypt.
In the event, the Chadian attack was repelled by the Salafist Brigade, although the intruding force retained control of a section of the important Jalu-Kufra highway.
- Chad is the backbone of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), through which Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic and others are fighting Boko Haram. On this front, Chad troops have US military backing.
- The Chad army is also part of another organization dedicated to combating Islamist incursions: The Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel J5S), which is battling Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahel desert.
- Around 6,000 ISIS terrorists thrown out of Syria and Iraq have relocated to the African Sahel desert and are back on the offensive. “The Islamic State in Africa” claims five recent attacks with a purported 118 casualties. One occurred on the Nigeria-Chad border, setting off rumors of a falling-put between the two governments. Lagos is said to have a problem with Chad’s MNJTF contingent and its role in securing the Lake Chad basin area against terror attacks.
In Israel, our sources report that the prime minister’s decision to accede to the Chad president’s request is widely criticized in military and intelligence circles as playing with fire. They argue that Israel has no business putting Moscow’s back up by joining a fight against the powerful Libyan General Haftar, who is an important ally of Russia and Egypt. Israel is already up against a Russian-Iranian front in Syria and it is not smart to step on Russian toes in Africa as well. The Netanyahu government took extreme care, furthermore, to avoid entanglement in the war on ISIS conducted in Syria and should be equally wary about joining a front-line challenge to the Islamist terrorists in Africa, in case of a backlash from Israel’s own back yard. There, Israel has enough security burdens of its own without shouldering those of others.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu is planning to visit the Chad capital soon to celebrate the resumption of diplomatic relations, one of the perks of Israel’s military assistance.