Israel is struggling to keep its diplomatic friends in Africa as Iran makes a determined effort to expand its influence there, making the continent an emerging theatre in the Iran-Israel confrontation.
But these days the Jewish state has a new ally, Kenya, which wants Israeli help to fight the growing menace of jihadist terrorism emanating from war-torn Somalia, Kenya’s northern neighbour where jihadists linked to al-Qaeda are active.
Israel is also seeking a foothold in the turbulent Horn of Africa to guard the approaches of the Red Sea. This is a vital shipping route and the access to the Arabian Sea for missile-armed Israeli submarines to target Iran should hostilities erupt.
It is also used by Iran to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip via Sudan and Egypt.
The Kenyans have suffered three major attacks by al-Qaeda in recent years the suicide bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi on Aug. 7, 1998, and twin attacks Nov. 28, 2002, in Mombasa, the bombing of a hotel frequented by Israelis and a missile attack on an Israeli airliner.
Kenyan Minister of Internal Security George Saitoti asked for Israeli counter-terrorism assistance when he visited Jerusalem in February.
According to media reports, he told Israeli leaders: “The jihad is taking over Somalia and threatening to take over Kenya and all of Africa. No one is more experienced than you in fighting internal terrorism.”
These reports said the Israelis responded by saying they were prepared to consider establishing a joint force with Kenya to guard its north western border to prevent terrorist infiltration.
Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist movement, which is fighting a Western-backed transitional government in Mogadishu, has repeatedly threatened to attack Kenya for allegedly training Somali troops.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank that monitors jihadist militancy, “The talks with Kenya appear to be part of a growing Israeli interest in the Horn of Africa.”
Pic: Kenyan president- Mwai Kabaki