The general stance of Sub-Saharan African countries tends to support the Palestinian cause for several reasons. Foremost among them is the fact that the occupation endured by the Palestinian people since 1948 resonates in the collective memory of African nations as a prolonged form of colonialism experienced by the African peoples. However, African support for the Palestinian cause often fluctuates, influenced by international circumstances and intersecting interests.
The year 1973 marked a pivotal moment in the relationship between Sub-Saharan African countries and the Palestinian cause, as most severed diplomatic ties with Israel after the October War. Nevertheless, Israel persisted in seeking to re-establish these ties. This effort notably bore fruit after the signing of the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel in 1978. This accord reopened the door for Israel to extend its influence in Africa. Moreover, the Oslo Accords of 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority further expanded opportunities for Israel on the African continent. African nations felt that the key players in the Palestinian issue had reconciled with Israel, prompting them to reconsider their stance.
As a result of these developments and pressures from the United States and the West on African countries, doors were opened for Israel to return to the African continent. Out of the 54 countries in the continent, 44 African nations recognize Israel, with over 30 of them maintaining full diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors with Israel.
Diplomatic Relations: Israel has established diplomatic ties with countries in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and others. These relationships have involved cooperation in various fields, such as agriculture, technology, security, and counterterrorism.
Security Cooperation: Israel has had historical security engagements in the region, particularly regarding military and intelligence cooperation. This has included training and supplying military equipment, especially with Ethiopia and other nations in the Horn of Africa.
Humanitarian Efforts: Israel has also been involved in providing humanitarian aid and assistance in the Horn of Africa, especially during times of crises like droughts, famine, and other humanitarian emergencies.
Geopolitical Dynamics: The region has witnessed shifting geopolitical alliances, with various countries in the Horn of Africa seeking strategic partnerships. Israel’s engagements in the region are often influenced by its broader geopolitical objectives, including its stance on issues related to Iran, Arab states, and the Red Sea.
Israel exploited this recognition and significant openness from African nations, working to bolster its relationships across various sectors: security, military, and agriculture—areas of dire need in Africa, where a fifth of the population suffers from chronic hunger and food scarcity.
However, Israel has yet to gain the goodwill of African nations as it desires. There remains a steadfast bloc opposed to Israeli expansion on the continent and its associated institutions. This opposition became evident when Israel lost the battle for observer status at the African Union in 2022, as the coalition led by South Africa and Algeria achieved a significant diplomatic victory. Most African nations rejected Israel’s bid for observer status at the African Union summit 2022.
Israeli expansion in Africa poses challenges to Arab countries’ interests, aiming to achieve the following objectives:
- Strengthening relationships with African countries and expanding the circle of supportive nations in international forums.
- Benefitting from Africa’s natural and economic resources.
- Extending its political and security influence across the continent.
Most African nations responded differently to the Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood Operation,” with stances varying between full support for resistance, as seen in South Africa, and leaning towards siding with Israel, as seen in Togo’s position.
The Arab-Israeli conflict witnessed a renewed escalation with the outbreak of the “Al-Aqsa Flood Operation.” This escalation sparked varied reactions in Africa. Some African nations were keen to express their support for the Palestinian people, while others were determined to maintain their relationships with Israel.
In this context, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, sought to issue a statement that considers the prevailing sentiment among African countries. He pointed out that the denial of fundamental rights to the Palestinian people, especially their right to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, is the primary reason behind the enduring Israeli-Palestinian tension.
Despite this stance, Africa refuses to take any escalatory actions against Israel, such as severing or even reducing diplomatic relations. Several reasons underpin this decision, including:
- The African Union’s commitment to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations.
- The African Union’s reluctance to be more royalist than the king hinted at Arab normalization with Israel.
- The African Union’s determination to maintain its relations with Israel, particularly in the economic and military spheres.
Hamas’ operation, which took place in October 2023, has elicited widespread popular reactions in Africa, with the majority of African populations expressing support for the Palestinian resistance. This support has manifested in various forms, from massive demonstrations in the streets to sermons in mosques, debates in universities, and articles and debates in the media.
The media across the continent has contributed to enlightening the African public opinion about the severe violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, thereby bolstering popular support for the Palestinians. Additionally, the complete Western bias towards Israel and the political, financial, and military support extended to it by the United States and Western nations have further reinforced African rejection of the Israeli occupation.
Moreover, other reasons have led to an increase in popular support for the Palestinians in the West African countries compared to those in the south and east of the continent. Currently, Israel faces another round of high costs resulting from the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation in the form of increased security risks, more significant import costs, and geopolitical pressure.
It is believed that a group from Al-Shabaab in Somalia attempted to hijack the chemical tanker “Central Park” owned by the Israeli Ofer family, which the United States of America thwarted. This incident comes after the Houthis targeted a ship last Friday and seized a cargo ship linked to Israel in the southern Red Sea.
Accordingly, Israel believes that its threatened interests at Bab al-Mandab are:
Economic safety: Nearly 10% of global trade passes through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, including 40% of oil exports from the Middle East. Any disruption in cross-strait business could significantly impact the Israeli economy.
Strategic Safety: The Bab al-Mandab Strait is a vital corridor for trade and transportation between Asia and Europe. Any control of the Strait could pose a threat to Israel’s security and its ability to access global markets.
To protect against these threats, Israel is seeking to strengthen its presence in the Bab al-Mandab region. In 2016, Israel signed a maritime agreement with Egypt, allowing it to use an Egyptian military base in the port of Sharm El-Sheikh. Israel is also working to develop its relations with other countries in the region, such as Somalia and Djibouti, to enhance its security in the Bab al-Mandab region.
However, recent developments have led Israel’s foreign relations with many regional and international countries to fluctuate due to its policy in Gaza and the ensuing massacres against civilian Gazans.
The Bab al-Mandab Strait is strategically important to Israel, as it is a vital corridor for trade and transportation between Asia and Europe. Any control of the Strait could pose a threat to Israel’s security and its ability to access global markets.
Overall, an attack on commercial ships could increase regional security tensions. This could lead to an escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Houthis and some armed groups present in the countries of the Horn of Africa, which could lead to an escalation of attacks on Israel.