JERUSALEM (Jan. 7)
Israeli officials have asked the press to refrain from speculating over which African state might be next to break diplomatic relations with Israel. On Friday Mali became the-fifth African nation to sever ties with Israel this year and the third to do so in a single week. Officials claim that press speculation on future ruptures is relayed to Africa and can be harmful there. But Israeli newspapers carried stories today on strained Israeli relations with Togo, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
The Foreign Ministry’s reaction to Mali’s move was that “there was nothing in the bilateral relations between Israel and Mali which would justify or explain the break.” This was the same formula that was stated last week when Brazaville-Congo and then Niger announced that they were breaking diplomatic ties with Israel. It was the same after Chad announced a break last month and was also the official reaction when President Idi Amin of Uganda suddenly expelled 700 Israeli diplomats and experts last March.
But Israeli sources had acknowledged earlier that relations with Mali were uneasy because of that country’s Moslem majority and “radical” regime. Mali had no diplomatic representative in Israel and Israel’s representation in Mali consisted only of Ambassador Asher Hakeny and an assistant who is an expert working for the United Nations. There are several Mali students in Israel. Several months ago 20 Mali students completed a course in community development here and their performance when they returned home earned high praise for Israel from the Mali government.
ISRAEL MUST EXPECT CASUALTIES
Israeli officials believe that outside pressure from Arab states, especially Libya, was responsible for Mali’s action and, in greater or lesser degree, for the breaks with the other African states. With the exception of Uganda, the African states that have split with Israel are all former French colonies.
Foreign Minister Abba Eban said on a radio interview yesterday that Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi. the leader of Libya’s ruling military junta, was responsible for Israel’s recent diplomatic set-backs in Africa and for decreasing the chances of reaching an accord with Libya’s federation partner. Egypt in general, Eban said, Israel must expect “casualties” in its diplomatic campaigns just as it expects them in its military campaigns. “It does not mean we have to turn tail and run,” he said. Eban’s remarks summed up Israel’s official attitude.
While some circles here believe that Israel should phase out its efforts to maintain friendly ties with the African states on grounds that they have yielded poor results, the majority view is that Israel must not retreat although it should prudently lower its profile in those countries where relations seen threatened. As one veteran Israeli diplomat with experience in Africa remarked last week. “Our investment in Africa has paid much higher dividends than anyone could have expected. There is no reason for us to give up now.”