Chadian President Idriss Deby has met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first such visit by a leader of the northcentral African nation which severed bilateral ties in 1972.
Both leaders called the visit “historic” as they met in Jerusalem on Sunday with security issues high on the agenda.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu said “we never fully stopped our contacts … but we are now expanding them at a very rapid rate”.
“And we wish to do so in all areas, first of all in fighting terrorism,” he said, adding that he hoped to visit the Muslim-majority African nation.
Deby spoke of the two countries committing to a new era of cooperation with “the prospect of re-establishing diplomatic relations”.
But Deby also highlighted the Palestinian cause, saying pursuing relations with Israel did not change his country’s concern for the long-stalled peace process.
Chad remains “deeply attached to the peace process between Israel and Palestine”, he said.
It was my honor to welcome the President of #Chad, Idriss Deby, to #Israel. This historic visit is yet another diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and #Africa. I hope President Deby’s time in Israel will be fruitful and lead to stronger relations between our countries. pic.twitter.com/p29yB37qBt
— Tzachi Hanegbi • צחי הנגבי (@Tzachi_Hanegbi) November 25, 2018
“The visit is focused on security,” one Israeli source told the Reuters news agency, adding that Israel has supplied the Chadian army with weapons this year to help in its fight against rebels.
The Netanyahu government has been investing in outreach to Africa, where some countries previously warm to Israel have kept their distance since its occupation of the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Middle East war.
In July 2016, Deby hosted the then-director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, for exploratory talks on improving bilateral relations.
Gold told Israel Radio on Sunday that his Chadian host said they cut off ties 46 years ago “under Libyan pressure”, a factor now removed with the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Chad, Fadoul Abderazak, said the two countries’ ties had been brewing for nearly a decade, but the visit has drawn criticism from members of the Chadian opposition.
“Chad’s opposition figures have said since 2008 that Israel supplied the Chadian security agencies with electronic listening equipment to spy on their activities,” he said.
“Chad’s TV, which normally announces the travels of the president, did not announce the visit to Israel by the president.”
Deby, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, took over the arid, impoverished nation in 1990 and won a disputed fifth term in April 2016.
Israel has been lobbying African allies in a bid to become an observer state in the African Union.