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Mali is a Diplomatic Opportunity for Israel: Dr. Emmanuel Navon, Israel National News, Feb. 13, 2013—France’s military intervention against Mali Islamists provides Israel with an opportunity to improve its relations with France and restore ties with Africa’s non-Arab Muslim countries, a chance that must be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister.
Islam’s Path To Africa: Michael Widlanski, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 16, 2013—Muslims often say “sabeel Allah fi-al-sayf,” “the path of God is by the sword,” and this path, which once led to the gates of Vienna, or to Spain, or to France, or Asia, now seems to be leading to Africa. Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Egypt are all experiencing terrific violence at the hands of forces claiming to be carrying the banner of Islam.
After Mali Comes Niger: West Africa's Problems Migrate East: Sebastian Elischer, Foreign Affairs, February 12, 2013—Last month, the French army's rapid advance into northern Mali and the timely deployment of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seemed to result in a swift victory over Islamist and Tuareg militants there. Equally important, however, was the Islamist and Tuareg militants' hasty withdrawal into northeastern Mali.
U.S. Counterterrorism in Africa Defined by a Decade of Missteps: Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2013
Thanks to Their Hubris, al-Qaeda’s Sahara 'Princes’ are on the Run: David Blair, The Telegraph, Feb. 14 2013
Taming Terrorism in North Africa: Rep. Mike Rogers, Politico, Feb.3, 2013
Dr. Emmanuel Navon
Israel National News, Feb. 13, 2013
France’s military intervention against Mali Islamists provides Israel with an opportunity to improve its relations with France and restore ties with Africa’s non-Arab Muslim countries, a chance that must be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister. France intervened in Mali to protect its vital interests. For years, al-Qaeda has been trying to take over 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.
Yet, by defending its interests, France has also opened a diplomatic opportunity for Israel.
Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, had very harsh words for the Arab members of the African Union on the closing day of the organization’s summit in Addis Ababa on January 27, 2013. Addressing the Arab states that had condemned France’s air attacks against the Islamists – such as Egypt and Tunisia – Traoré questioned their refusal to condemn the horrific actions inflicted by the Islamists on the people of Mali, alongside willingness to express outrage against a French intervention.
Mali’s political leaders and opinion-makers openly express their feeling of betrayal by the Arab countries, especially those run by Islamist regimes; after cutting ties with Israel under Arab pressure, they expected those same Arab states to aid them in their fight against the Islamists. Instead, the Arab countries condemned France, not the Islamists.
A recent article in the Malian daily Le Matin directed its critique specifically at the Palestinians and their ambassador to Mali, Abu Rabah. In addition to being the PLO’s ambassador, Abu Rabah is the head of Mali’s diplomatic protocol. He is ubiquitous in the media and has managed to put the “Palestinian cause” on top of Mali’s national agenda – including the naming of a public square in Bamako, Mali’s capital, after the “Palestinian Martyr” Mohamed al-Dura. Yet Abu Rabah did not have a single word to say against the Islamists.
Le Matin not only lashed out at Abu Rabah, it claimed that the Islamists are backed by the Arab and Muslim countries. Since Mali has been duped by its so-called Muslim brethren, Le Matin concluded, it should change its foreign policy. Mali’s feeling of betrayal is reminiscent of Africa’s disappointment in the Arab and Muslim world in the 1970s, when Libya and Saudi Arabia tried to use financial incentives to encourage African countries to cut ties with Israel.
After the Yom Kippur War, the Arab League threatened to apply its oil embargo to Africa. As a result, all African countries (except Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, and Swaziland) severed their ties with Israel. But they soon realized that their move had no benefit, and that the Arab League was willing to share its enemies but not its oil.
More and more African leaders and opinion-makers openly charged the Arabs of racism, reminding them of their past slavery trade in Africa. They were also concerned by Muammar Gaddafi’s expansionist and destabilizing policies. In the 1980s, Israel proactively re-engaged Africa under the leadership of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Ministry Director-General David Kimche. Most African countries restored their ties with Israel in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, some African states changed course in the following decade. Niger severed its diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 at the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and Mauritania in 2009, after Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Both countries are Muslim, and both were influenced by Iran. In 2008, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that his country intended to develop ties with Africa. One year later, he visited many African countries with Iranian diplomats and generals, signing commercial, diplomatic, and defence deals.
Israel lost a project of water sewage in Senegal after Iran promised to carry out the same work at lower cost. Iran’s influence in Africa also relies on Lebanon’s rich and influential diaspora in countries such as Congo, Guinea, and Senegal, which donates money to Hizbullah.
However, with the electoral victory of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia, and with the near takeover of Mali by al-Qaeda, more and more African countries are becoming fearful of Iran and of its Islamist allies. Ethiopia, forced to confront Islamist militias backed by nearby rebels in Somalia, has become one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa, as well as a major buyer of Israeli defense equipment. Kenya, which also faces Islamist terrorism from neighboring Somalia, is interested in strengthening its military ties with Israel. Even Nigeria reportedly spent about $500 million on Israeli military equipment in the past few years.
Mali’s anger at Arab countries, especially Egypt, is part of a wider African fear of Islamic influence and of Iranian meddling on the continent. Even though France’s military intervention in Mali is only meant to serve French interests, it opens a window of opportunity which Israel should seize to improve its relations with Africa and with France itself.
French military strikes against Mali’s Islamists are in stark contrast with France’s backing of the Muslim rebels in Côte d’Ivoire during that country’s civil war in 2002-2011. There, President Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian, started challenging France’s strong economic grip over his country. His defiant policy created a community of interests between France and Côte d’Ivoire’s Muslim rebels led by Alassane Ouattara. Hence France supported the Muslim rebels from Côte d’Ivoire’s northern region against Gbagbo and the Christian south.
The embattled Ivorian president, a close friend of Israel, sought and obtained Israel’s logistical help. France and Israel ended up confronting each other by proxy in Côte d’Ivoire. In April 2011, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a French military commando to oust Gbagbo from his bunker, allowing Ouattara to take the presidency.
While France and Israel collided in Côte d’Ivoire, the policy of President François Hollande in Mali creates a new community of interests, since France is now fighting forces that are hostile to Israel. Thus, the Malian crisis constitutes an opportunity for Israel to improve its relations with France and with former French colonies in Africa. This opportunity should be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister.
The author heads the Political Science and Communications Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College, and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 16, 2013
Muslims often say “sabeel Allah fi-al-sayf,” “the path of God is by the sword,” and this path, which once led to the gates of Vienna, or to Spain, or to France, or Asia, now seems to be leading to Africa. Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Egypt are all experiencing terrific violence at the hands of forces claiming to be carrying the banner of Islam. The world looks on and acts slowly, if at all. Meanwhile, weapons proliferate, and many die. Hundreds of thousands of refugees stream across Mali, as the UN debates what to do – much as it did when tens of thousands were slaughtered in Sudan.
Egypt’s mostly nonviolent revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader says Jews and Christians are descended from apes and pigs. Egypt remilitarizes the Sinai Desert, and the US sends it F-16’s and more aid. Tunisia’s secular opposition leader has been murdered, and the Islamic agenda rises in both Tunisia and Egypt, even as Christians are slaughtered in Egypt and Nigeria. Areas once conquered by Islam and now deemed somehow insufficiently Islamic, as well as areas not completely conquered by Islam are now being targeted by forces who call themselves “true Muslims.” Villages are destroyed in Algeria and Nigeria, their inhabitants often beheaded.
Islam has been knocking loudly and violently at the gates of the non-Muslim world ever since the prophet-general known as Muhammad sanctified, as jihad, land grabs for his “religion of peace.” In some respects, jihad was a way to sublimate the territorial urges of the Beduin that used to find their outlet in periodic raids known as ghazwa. Jihad, as scholars observed, was a both a religious duty and a pragmatic safety valve.
Jihad is the “sixth pillar” of Islam, whose five basic commandments are known as khamsat arkaan al-Islam – the five pillars of Islam. Jihad, in other words, would be a bit like what Jews and Christians would call “the eleventh commandment” of the Ten Commandments.
This is important information, but it is being studiously avoided by leading Western officials who prefer to take a politically correct approach to Islamic conquest. In his State of the Union speech, US President Barack Obama patted himself on the back for sending some transport planes to help France try to push back against the Islamic terrorists in Mali.
Obama claims to have eviscerated al-Qaida, but the actions of al-Qaida-inspired or linked groups in Africa make a mockery of his claims. Meanwhile, China and Russia, which have their eyes on the minerals of Africa, play the usual diplomatic games of supporting Islamic terror by refusing to countenance “interference in domestic affairs.”
Obama and his CIA director-designee John Brennan take a benign view of some of the Islamist movements, even helping the Brotherhood in Egypt, much as Jimmy Carter once helped the ayatollahs in Iran. Brennan, who speaks Arabic (badly), has publicly called jihad a “spiritual journey,” and both he and Obama believe that they know where Islam is headed. They think it is headed to Indonesia – the most populous Islamic country in the world.
Obama and Brennan both spent part of their youth in Indonesia. They think Indonesia is an example of what Islam is and should be. But the Indonesia of their youth is not the model for most Muslims, who prefer to look to Mecca. Indeed the Islam of east Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – is itself becoming much more violent and anti-Western.
The more radical Islamic forces are on the march, and they are not really impressed by Western solidarity, by speeches by Obama and Brennan. Many of the victims of jihad are now in Africa, but they will probably not be the last.
The writer, an expert on Arab politics and communications, was a strategic affairs adviser in the Ministry of Public Security.
AFTER MALI COMES NIGER:
WEST AFRICA'S PROBLEMS MIGRATE EAST
Foreign Affairs, February 12, 2013
Last month, the French army's rapid advance into northern Mali and the timely deployment of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seemed to result in a swift victory over Islamist and Tuareg militants there. Equally important, however, was the Islamist and Tuareg militants' hasty withdrawal into northeastern Mali. With France planning to pull its troops out of the country as soon as March, Mali will almost certainly be turned into an ECOWAS trusteeship. The most likely upshot is not a neat end to the conflict but, rather, a migration of the problem into neighboring Niger.
Parts of the Tuareg leadership, which signed a power-sharing agreement in March 2012 with three jihadist militias — al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa — have already fled across the unguarded Nigerien border, where they will try to regroup. Given Niger's weak government structures, they also pose a serious security threat to the country as a whole.
Niger presents an appealingly easy target. For one, despite several attempts at reform by President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in April 2011, Niger's secular political elite lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its largely illiterate, rural, and deeply religious population. Numerous failed attempts at democratization and rampant corruption by previous governments have plagued the country for over two decades. Among the population, this troubled legacy has fostered a general sense of alienation from the capital.
Large parts of the Nigerien army, meanwhile, are opposed to the notion of civilian rule. Ever since it was pushed out of power in 1991, the army leadership has cultivated a deep mistrust of the civilian elite among all military ranks. Consumed with hatred for the Tuareg following two major military campaigns against them (1990-1995 and 2007-2009, respectively), the Nigerien army has overthrown three civilian governments since 1993. Although recent coup attempts in 2011 and 2012 proved amateurish and lacked sufficient support among both the armed forces and the population, they indicate long-standing tensions between parts of the military and the civilian elites.
Despite a 2009 peace accord with the government, Niger's Tuareg clans remain marginalized economically and disenfranchised politically. Although in 2009 the central government agreed to channel more resources to the Tuareg, this promise has clearly not been kept. The Tuareg thus have remained poorer than the rest of the population. The current prime minister's Tuareg ancestry should not distract from the fact that the community lacks genuine political representation in the capital.
Given that the Tuareg are a nomadic people, no one knows exactly how many there are — but the best estimates suggest that there are roughly 1.2 million Tuareg in total, with most of them living in Mali and Niger. Issoufou, for one, has explicitly warned about the threat of a new Tuareg rebellion in the north. The government's announcement of a $2.5 billion aid package for the Tuareg-populated areas at the height of the French intervention was likely an attempt to head off such an insurgency.
Meanwhile, in southern Niger, unguarded checkpoints along the border with Nigeria have allowed for an influx of radical Islamic preachers, who have sought to win over the population by promising to provide public goods that the state has not. Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization based in Nigeria, and homegrown radical Islamic sects, such as the Izala movement, operate well-known outposts in Niger's southern cities of Diffa, Maradi, and Zinder. Their operatives clash regularly with Nigerien security forces.
In short, Niger's domestic political scene remains highly volatile. And the fuse that ignites it could well be the inflow of rebels from Mali. These rebels could try to foment an uprising of either Islamists or Tuareg — or both. The socioeconomic predicament of the Tuareg in northern Niger and the growing influence of Islamist groups in the south provide fertile ground for such an attempt.
The outbreak of wider unrest in Niger could drag the West into a long-term military engagement in the Sahel region. France gets roughly three-quarters of its energy from uranium mined in northern Niger, near the city of Arlit. Unsurprisingly, France has already deployed soldiers to protect those resources, and China is said to have done the same at its uranium mine near Azalik. Niger is also an oil exporter, and production is expected to grow significantly in coming months. Rebel movements and Islamic militants are within reach of Niger's mines and oil fields, which they could use to fund their rebellion. Further attacks on Nigerian and Algerian territory remain a distinct possibility.
The West should not trust the Nigerien army to manage such a conflict on its own. Its upper ranks were appointed by the previous civilian government — based on political loyalty, not merit. As a result, the army lacks professionalism and adequate training. And the country's already weak forces will soon be further depleted: Niger has offered ECOWAS 20 percent of its military to either join in the operation in Mali or go on standby.
ECOWAS' ability to police the region is also highly questionable. First, previous ECOWAS missions — in Sierra Leone and Liberia — have proved touch and go. In both cases, mistrust and disunity plagued relationships among the military leadership. These ECOWAS operations also suffered from inadequate resources, including a lack of weapons. Ultimately, the only reason they were effective was a strong British military presence. But with France's withdrawal from Mali imminent, such a force will be lacking in the Sahel.
Moreover, the various African countries that have pledged support for the military engagement in Mali lack the necessary finances for even that war. They have already asked Western donors for $1 billion in aid, and thus far the West has provided only half that amount. It will be no easy task for them to open another front. Furthermore, roughly a third of all African soldiers committed to the Mali mission come from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member. Although the United Nations' mandate for Mali refers to "an African-led International Support Mission" and therefore permits any African nation to join the fray, a longer-term, multilateral mission would ultimately raise the question of whether ECOWAS or Chad is in charge.
Unfortunately, however, outside help does not appear to be on its way. The United Kingdom and Germany do not seem to grasp the importance of the Sahel to European energy security. Germany has dedicated only three aircraft to the Mali campaign and the United Kingdom has sent 240 "not for combat" soldiers. In the United States, meanwhile, President Barack Obama lacks a comprehensive African strategy, let alone a plan for the Sahel. Drone policing — the Obama administration's preferred tactic — provides little more than a short-term fix. If the West wants to prevent the Sahel from falling hostage to Tuareg and Islamist militants, longer-term military and financial engagement is urgently required.
U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts in Africa Defined by a Decade Of Missteps: Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post, February 4, 2013—The U.S. military was closely tracking a one-eyed bandit across the Sahara in 2003 when it confronted a hard choice that is still reverberating a decade later. Should it try to kill or capture the target, an Algerian jihadist named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, or let him go?
Thanks to Their Hubris, al-Qaeda’s Sahara 'Princes’ are on the Run: David Blair, The Telegraph, Feb. 14 2013—If al-Qaeda’s leaders have one real achievement, they have surely demonstrated how to combine fastidious bureaucracy with rhetorical flourishes. The document I found in Timbuktu, as reported in the Telegraph yesterday, duly records a meeting of the “princes” of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), carefully listing all those present at gathering number “33”, before paying effusive tribute to “our Muslim heroes on this grand desert”.
Taming terrorism in North Africa: Rep. Mike Rogers, Politico, Feb.3,2013—For years, North Africa has been a simmering caldron of Islamist militant activity. The Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi and at a natural gas plant two weeks ago in Algeria tragically illuminated this threat on television screens around the world. The United States urgently needs a comprehensive strategy to fight this new front in the war on terrorism.
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