But an opportunity is open for Israel.
Dioncounda Traoré, 70, the interim President of Mali, harshly criticized Arab members of the African Union at its last organizational summit in Addis Ababa on January 27, 2013.
Traoré lashed out at the hypocrisy of the Arab member states of the Union, Egypt and Tunisia in particular, for condemning the French air attack against the al-Qaeda Islamists while at the same time refusing to condemn the brutal atrocities committed by the Islamists on the people of Mali.
According to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-Chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi Newspaper, “Traoré spoke of his sense of betrayal that the Arab nations had not joined Mali’s fight against the Islamists but had condemned France instead. This was then taken up by the Malian press and several editorials critical of Arab countries ensued.”
Mali is a former French colony and a landlocked West African (Sahel region bordering the Sahara desert) nation that had often been cited as a democratic model. In March 2012, mutinous soldiers in Bamako, the capital, rose up in a coup and overthrew the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. The troops responded to the government’s mishandling of the rebellion by the nomadic Tuareg tribesmen who seized much of Mali’s northern desert. The Tuareg tribesmen were then pushed out by Islamists associated with al-Qaeda.
The foothold gained by al-Qaeda in Mali’s north worried Western policymakers that Mali might become a safe haven for Islamist terrorists. The Malian government was unable to take on the Islamists, and appealed to the French government for help. It prompted the French government to send its military to intervene, and push al-Qaeda out to the northern mountains last January. When French air strikes did not succeed in dislodging the al-Qaeda Islamists, the French deployed ground troops. Now, the French are concerned about being bogged down in Mali and hope that an African force will be formed that will tackle the Islamists in the vast desert and mountains of Northern Mali.
France intervened in Mali to protect its vital interests. For years, al-Qaeda has been trying to penetrate the countries of the Sahel region, and Mali is its main target. Without the French military intervention, Mali would have become the first Islamic state of the Sahel region, followed by neighboring Niger, a country on which France heavily depends for its uranium imports.
USA Today reported (2/14/2013) that “In their hurry to flee last month, al-Qaeda fighters left behind a crucial document…spelling out the terror network’s strategy for conquering northern Mali and reflecting internal discord over how to rule the region...It moreover leaves no doubt that despite the temporary withdrawal into the desert (driven out by French forces), al-Qaeda plans to operate in the region over the long haul.”
Mali, recently, much like other black-African states in the past, felt betrayed by and disappointed with the Arab-Muslim world. In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Arab League urged the black-African states to sever their ties with Israel and threatened them with an oil embargo. The rich oil-producing Arab states of Saudi Arabia and Libya used financial incentives to bribe the African states. As a result, most of the Sub-Saharan African states cut their diplomatic relations with Israel. Soon enough, the African states discovered the Arabs' empty promises, and while the Arabs wanted Africa to join them in isolating Israel, they did not, however, want to share with the Africans their oil.
In the 1980s and 1990s Israel invested serious efforts in restoring relations with the African states. It paid off when most black-African states renewed their diplomatic ties with Israel in those decades. In the following decade, however, as a result of the Second Intifada (2000-2004), Niger severed its relations with Israel in 2000, and Mauritania (a member of the Arab League) in 2009, following Israel’s Iron Cast operation in Gaza.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, too, is seeking to develop close ties with the Continent’s states, and gain political influence. Under the guise of providing economic and military aid, and backed by a large and wealthy Shiite-Lebanese diaspora in such African states as the Congo, Guinea, and Senegal, who send large sums in contributions to Hezbollah, Iran hopes to garner UN support from African states and thus break its regional and international isolation.
According to the Afri Commons Blog (2/2/2011), quoting Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst at the Tel Aviv-based Meepas risk-analysis group, Iran’s goal in Africa is “to win votes in the UN and increase the number of countries that support them there, to win economic points, to increase Iran’s economic clout in the region and in the world…The Iranian leadership sees Iran as a superpower, and superpowers build alliances.”
The triumph of Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia and the near takeover of Mali by al-Qaeda terrorists had increased the African states' apprehensions over Iran and its allies meddling in Africa. Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, both confronted by Islamist rebels, have indicated their interest in strengthening their military ties with Israel. From 2006 to 2010 Israel delivered major weapons to nine sub-Saharan states: Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, and Uganda. Nigeria signed deals with Israel worth $500 million.
Increasingly, African leaders and political pundits have become critical of Arab hypocrisy, and worried about Iran and its Islamist allies. They have charged the Arabs of racism, reminding them of their past slave trading in Africa. They were also concerned by Muammar Gaddafi’s expansionist and destabilizing policies in the African Continent.
Mali’s daily Le Matin has recently excoriated Palestinian ambassador Abu Rabah, the influential dean of the diplomatic corps, for not coming out against the Islamists. The newspaper claimed that the Islamists are backed by Arab and Muslim countries. Le Matin argued that “since Mali has been duped by its so-called Muslim brethren, it should change its foreign policy.”
Abdel Bari Atwan writes that “[t]he French military intervention in Mali is designed not only to protect its own interests in the region but to benefit Israel. The Mali adventure has opened new doors for Israel in terms of diplomacy and its expansionist plans in the African continent as a whole.” In the end, it is Arab and Muslim extremism that affords Israel an opportunity in Mali and in sub-Saharan Africa.
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