Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't let Lieberman outflank us

Israel is scrambling to cement ties with Africa, though it cares nothing for the people of the continent, having strategic advantage firmly in mind, writes Galal Nassar.

For the second week running I will focus on the implications of the Israeli foreign minister's recent African tour. After visiting several countries in Central Asia and Latin America, Avigdor Lieberman went to Africa, where he visited five carefully selected African nations. The man who, because of his well-known racist views, has failed to persuade any Arab or Western nation to receive him found African doors open. The tour has scantly been reported in the media, apart from a few leaks. But from what we know, it is safe to assume that the Israeli government is trying to outflank us in Africa.

Most African countries have been off bounds to the Israelis since 1973, when 54 African nations severed ties with Israel in solidarity with Arab countries. This gives an added significance to Lieberman's tour, occurring at a time when the Arabs have given up their policy of boycotting Israel. Lured by the mirage of a lasting peace, one Arab country after another has normalised its ties with Israel, Egypt being the first to do so. Egypt, I will argue, is also the primary target of Lieberman's African schemes.

Few would deny that Israel is envious of Egypt's status and prestige. When Lieberman called for bombing the High Dam and flooding Egypt, his remarks were undoubtedly motivated by envy. To this moment, the Israeli foreign minister hasn't apologised for his remarks, and Egypt is acting as if the whole thing didn't matter much. But now Lieberman is taking steps not to flood Egypt this time, but to dry it up.

Africa was the third stop for Lieberman after Central Asia and Latin America. This leads one to surmise that the Israeli foreign minister wants to get as many nations as possible on his side and thus change the dynamic at the UN. Lieberman said that the visit is of great importance in bolstering the status of Israel in the international community and promoting commercial ties with Africa.

Some experts believe that Israel is hoping to put together an anti-Arab alliance. According to a Western diplomat based in Nairobi, Israel wants to forge closer ties with the countries situated beyond the boundaries of the Arab world. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Turkey, and Central Asia are primary targets.

In Africa, Israel seems to be intent not on making new friends as much as on consolidating ties with old friends. In his recent tour, Lieberman visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana. The first three countries control the sources of the Nile. Ethiopia has been Israel's best friend in Africa for sometime. Kenya is widely thought to be the centre of Mossad activities in Africa. Actually, some Kenyan churches are staunch supporters of Zionist Christianity. The Kenyans have had remarkably close ties with Israel. And Uganda is believed to be the springboard for Israel's secret wars in Africa. Experts say that Israeli weapons reach African insurgent movements usually through Uganda.

The delegation accompanying Lieberman included prominent businessmen specialised in energy projects, agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, communications and security. Senior officials from the foreign, finance, and internal security ministries were also among Lieberman's entourage.

The visit could be seen as an answer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to Africa in February. The Israelis are said to have been shocked by the Iranian president's tour, especially his visit to Nairobi. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Lieberman was scheduled to discuss the Iranian question during his tour. Iran has numerous projects and invests considerable funds in more than one African country. Israel is worried that the Iranians may find someone to sell them uranium in Africa.

There is also the chance that Lieberman's tour was Israel's way of telling the US that Israel can be of help in African affairs. Washington has been facing increased Chinese and European competition in Africa of late.

As the world's second largest manufacturer of diamonds, Israel imports raw diamonds from Africa. Israel also wants to import oil from African countries, including Nigeria. International Zionist financial firms may also be interested in the money laundering business believed to be rife in Africa. The fact that major oil companies, such as Chevron and BP, operate in Africa makes the continent particularly alluring to the Israelis.

Moreover, Israel is always on the lookout for markets for its light and medium calibre weapons. It is known to supply African militia with such arms. Retired Israeli officers routinely work as trainers for African militia, and they often send militia leaders to Israel to receive instruction and learn the ways of promoting Israeli interests on the continent in return.

Israel's ultimate goal in Africa, however, is to conspire against Egypt. Even before Lieberman threatened to bomb the High Dam and drown Egypt, Israeli diplomats have been trying to cut off the water supplies to Egypt from upstream countries. Israel has invested heavily in African water projects, and not just for financial gain. Its main purpose is to strangulate both Egypt and Sudan.

For decades, Israel has been trying to gain a foothold on the central lakes and the Nile sources -- its aim being to distract Egypt with problems on its southern front.

Egypt has recently asked for an increase of its quota of Nile water. This has led to differences with three of the upstream countries. Among the five countries that Lieberman visited are three that control Nile waters. Ethiopia controls Lake Tana, from which the Blue Nile flows. Kenya and Uganda control Lake Victoria, which provides the White Nile with water.

Two rounds of talks concerning the Nile waters were held in summer, the first in Kinshasa in June and the second in Alexandria in July. The meetings produced no agreement, and the participants agreed to hold further consultations in six months, during which littoral countries are supposed to maintain the status quo.

Still, Lieberman has concluded several agreements through which Israel would finance and implement projects ranging from water reservoirs to diversions of some of the tributaries of the Nile. When negotiations among the Nile basin countries resume in four months or so it will be hard for Egypt and Sudan to ask African nations to reverse the steps they would have taken. It is said that Israel has promised to build massive reservoirs at both Lake Tana and Lake Victoria.

Sudan is Israel's second target in Africa. Israel has accused Sudan of supporting the Palestinian resistance and providing it with weapons. According to a report published in Haaretz on 27 March 2009, Israeli planes raided vehicles loaded with Iranian weapons in eastern Sudan. The paper claimed that the weapons were bound for Gaza. The attack was conducted in January, but it was kept a secret because of a certain mishap. Instead of striking arms smugglers, the planes attacked a caravan of 1,000 civilians who were smuggling regular goods on the Sudanese- Egyptian borders. The Israeli planes killed 119 people, including 56 smugglers and 63 refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia who were trying to get across the border.

According to Muammar Gaddafi, Israel is behind much of the violence presently taking place in Africa. Addressing an extraordinary session of the African Union, Gaddafi said that the crises in Darfur and Southern Sudan would have petered out but for the interference of foreign powers. One of the factions fighting in Darfur has offices in Tel Aviv, the Libyan leader remarked.

Unfortunately, Egypt is doing little to confront Israel's tactics. Egypt has neglected Africa for years, according to Samir Radwan, member of the Higher Policies Council at the National Democratic Party. In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Yom, published on 6 September 2009, Radwan deplores Egypt's approach to the Nile basin countries.

"Egypt has neglected Africa and thus imperilled its quota of water coming from the south," Radwan says. He adds that Israel has stepped in and led Africans to believe that Egypt was getting more water than it deserved. Radwan says that Egypt should forge closer ties with all Nile Basin countries, not just Sudan.

The Arab world is not making much headway in Africa either. With the exception of the financing of mosques and the distribution of religious publications, the Arabs and Muslims are not doing much. Israel, meanwhile, is getting involved in economic life in Africa. According to one analyst, "the number of Muslims who can recite the whole Quran is rising in Africa, but people still need help with their day-to-day life."

To sum up, Israel could not care less for African welfare. But it will use the Africans to stab Egypt, and Sudan, in the back.

Source: Al-Ahram Weekly, 17 - 23 September 2009 , Issue No. 965, Egypt