The African continent is becoming the latest battlefield in the existential war between Iran and Israel. It would appear that both countries are engaged in a modern day scramble for a piece of Africa. This has nothing to do with the colonial aspirations of times past but rather it is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people and in the case of Iran, gaining a foothold on the African continent. The methodologies adopted by the two countries are somewhat different.
After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, relations between Israel and most African countries soured, and it was only in the 1980’s and 1990’s that Israel returned to Africa. There are strategic interests – countries situated in the horn of Africa have geographical significance not just for airspace but for their close proximity to Arab countries. Israel understands that Africa is a new frontier ripe for cooperation and has embarked on targeted diplomatic missions and has made great strides through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ MASHAV programme which has brought much needed agricultural and medical assistance to impoverished communities and countries across the continent. Examples of this include water purification projects, assisting in circumcision rituals in countries such as Swaziland which has significantly reduced HIV infection rates, as well as numerous agricultural projects. It was part of Zionism’s founding father, Theodore Herzl’s dream to help the oppressed in Africa.
Israel is helping to cure and feed Africa but has also extended her long military arm in the event of threats to her national security. This was evident in the alleged bombing of a munitions facility in the Sudan by Israeli F-15 jets in 2012. Israel has remained silent about the issue.
Enter Iran. The growing trail of bullets, missiles and other ammunition is leading back to Tehran. Iran not only sponsors its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, who have proven their intentions time and again with terror attacks on Israel and Jewish institutions around the world, Iran has become one of the primary sponsors of ammunition and firearms in some of Africa’s most violent conflicts zones, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Niger, Sudan and others. Iran is not only sponsoring Al Qaeda cells on the continent but rebel and guerrilla groups as well. There are well traveled munitions that cross the continent and somehow find their way back into Gaza and Iraq. It is no coincidence that Iran is carefully setting up their smuggling routes to their proxies in the Gaza Strip. They openly state their intentions to destroy the State of Israel, and they back it up it up with an aggressive nuclear program. If anyone still believes that Iranian nukes will be used for domestic power issues, then they are imbibing something hallucinogenic!
Iran is playing an interesting game of chess, setting up players that are traditionally anti-West, perhaps to bolster its support in the face of growing sanctions. What better way than to court members of the African Union and Non-Aligned Movement, most of whom are African countries?
It is not just instruments of war that Iran is supplying to the continent, it is oil reserves as well. Oil is a powerful tool for helping to curry favor and so is mutual anti-western sentiment. One case in point is South Africa. South Africa faces growing international scrutiny from the international community for its business dealings with Tehran. An example of this would be South African cellular giant, MTN, owning 49% of Irancell. It is ironic that a country that is not only a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty and defeated its heinous Apartheid regime would continue to build relations with a regime that both parades its missiles through the streets of its capital and states its intention to “wipe cancerous Israel off the map”. Erm, how exactly do they think Iran aims to accomplish this? There has been no condemnation from South Africa for the profound racism in the form of Holocaust denial and anti-Zionist rhetoric coming from Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his ministers. Even more baffling is South Africa’s increasing hostility towards Israel. This has severely impaired any ability for the African state to broker any kind of lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Inviting Iranian ministers and Hamas leaders has also thrown a large spanner in any kind of peace works.
This modern day scramble for Africa between two hostile countries has shown that in some cases, the best intentions are utilized by countries that see the bigger picture and the benefits of working with countries like Israel who want to help. For others, anti- Western sentiment blinds them to reality and makes them vulnerable pawns in Iran’s stand off against the west.