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Behind the Headlines Chad’s Break with Israel: Causes and Possible Effects

December 5, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Chad broke its diplomatic ties with Israel last week after a decade of cordiality and cooperation. The move came seven months after President Idi Amin of Uganda cut his country’s diplomatic relations with Israel and drove out the hundreds of Israeli experts, advisors and building contractors working in Uganda. Thus the question inevitably in many people’s minds in Israel is: does this represent the beginning of a domino-like collapse of the delicate framework of relations with more than 30 Black African states which Israel has painstakingly built up during the “independence decade?”

One seasoned observer of African affairs to whom I spoke in Jerusalem believes that this is not the case. The peculiar combination of circumstances in which President Francois Tombalbaye of Chad found himself–harassed by Libyan pressure and yet seduced by President Muammar el-Qaddafi’s blandishments, and at the same time deep in economic and military straits with Chad’s traditional patrons, the French having forsaken him–is not likely to repeat itself elsewhere.

Also, there is an unmistakable feeling in Africa that Qaddafi spells danger, that he aims for a sinister kind of Moslem hegemony even in areas south of the Sahara. Qaddafi overplayed his hand when he went to the aid of Amin against Tanzania with armed troops and left many African leaders with an uncomfortable wariness of his aspirations and intentions.


Arab efforts to dislodge Israel from Africa are not of course a new phenomenon. They began as soon as Israel herself started to court the African states in embryo in the late 1950’s. But the Arabs were almost completely unsuccessful in preventing Israel from forging ties with Black Africa, and links were formed with every new state except the Moslem Somalia and Mauritania–where there was never really much hope.

In 1967, President Sekou Toure of Guinea cut his ties with Israel along with the Communist bloc, and in 1972, we have had Uganda and now Chad–but other than that, Israel’s position in Africa is intact and even flourishing so long as United Nations votes are not the yardstick.

The new factor which has now come into play, and which accounted for Amin’s and Tombalbaye’s decisions to break with Israel, is a militant, expansionist, aggressive Islam, backed by enormous cash resources. The main force in this respect is of course Libya, but King Feisal of Saudi Arabia, as guardian of the holy places and aspiring leader of the Moslem world, cannot allow the young upstart Qaddafi to take the torch of Islam into Africa and has therefore of late begun distributing the largesse himself. Chad’s break with Israel came a week after King Feisal’s visit to Fort Lamy–no doubt an occasion for glittering promises if Tombalbaye broke with the Zionist infidels.

Despite Feisal’s timely blandishments, it is likely that Chad’s break with Israel resulted from a long campaign of pressure by Libya rather than from a one-time handout from Saudi Arabia. Qaddafi has been supported by the rebel underground movement in Chad against the Christian Tombalbaye. Until recently the President could count on French support to bolster his regime: but in February the French pulled their troops out, apparently unwilling to appear to support a regime which was the obvious target of Qaddafi’s hostility. Qaddafi, after all, is a top customer for French hardware.


At the same time, Tombalbaye was beset with crushing financial problems, which the French again were unwilling to help solve for reasons best known to themselves. Reliable Israeli sources say he asked Israel for $7 million to tide him over; but Israel cannot compete with Libyan and Saudi Arabian wealth. In the end it was the Arab states that baled him out.

The observer I spoke to believes Tombalbaye’s current salvation by Libya will prove short lived. Qaddafi is hostile to him personally, as a Christian and as the man who has withstood him for so long. He will not rest until he has deposed him.

This, if it happens, may well prove to be Qaddafi’s second mistake in Africa–for there can be no doubt that he overplayed his hand earlier this-year when he intervened with troops in the Ugandan-Tanzanian skirmishing. The spectacle of Arab intervention in an all-Black conflict made a thoroughly negative impression on such states as Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zaire, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania itself, Sudan, currently mending its fences with Black Africa and distancing itself from the Arabs, gave expression to a more widespread disapproval when it refused to allow Libyan reinforcements for Amin to overfly its air space.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking–but Israel is reasoning and hoping that the seeds of mistrust and resentment, which are already noticeable, have already been detected among Black African leaders towards Qaddafi; his motives and his methods, will lead to a wariness of his blandishments and a resistance to his pressures on other vulnerable states.

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