Events in Niger continue to dominate the news cycle. Niger’s generals and presidential guard have held President Mohamed Bazoum hostage since July 26 after overthrowing him in a coup d’état. In response, west African governments convened an emergency summit last Thursday and created a “stand-by” force, reflecting the tension and uncertainty surrounding the unfolding situation.
Since 2012, the U.S. has spent over half a billion dollars training and arming Niger’s armed forces. Nonetheless, as The Wall Street Journal reported, Niger’s presidential guard felt its position was being undermined by the amount of resources dedicated to counterterror operations.
The depth of resentment felt by some officials in Niger’s security infrastructure was underlined by the icy reception accorded acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland last week by Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, one of the “coup plotters.” Barmou had been considered an ally of the U.S.
Images of pro-coup demonstrators carrying placards with pro-Russian slogans further revealed a shakeup of alliances. Clearly, African countries remain vulnerable to the political temptations of anti-Western sentiment.
Viewed alongside the China-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran last March, the Niger coup is a troubling development. Both events show the damage caused by American foreign policy disengagement.
Iran’s softening relations with Gulf states gave it the flexibility to enhance its global imprint. Its President Ebrahim Raisi views links with Africa as critical to expanding his regime’s power. Thus, Iran is exploiting the continent’s political instability and capitalizing on American absence with an unprecedented diplomatic offensive.
In particular, Kenya’s role as a member of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency makes it an attractive ally to Iran. Raisi was feted by Kenya’s President William Ruto with a red carpet welcome and concluded his visit by signing five Memoranda of Understanding in which the two leaders pledged cooperation in areas ranging from communication technology to animal health.
Iran also enhanced relations with Uganda, which has discovered a trove of uranium deposits.
Furthermore, Iran is using its relationship with eastern Africa in order to maximize its presence on the region’s waterways. In particular, Iran is seeking to restore ties with Sudan, a crucial access point to the Red Sea.
Sudan is currently embroiled in deadly infighting between the nation’s top generals. Iran is exploiting this instability in order to restore Sudan’s status as a base for transferring weapons to terrorist groups.
In 2016, the east African country joined with Saudi Arabia and severed ties with Iran but, highlighting the diplomatic domino effect, Sudan may soon follow the Saudis’ lead and renew relations with the Islamic republic. Thus, in July, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian met with his Sudanese counterpart in Azerbaijan.
Rapprochement with Sudan would elevate Iran’s presence in the region and imperil the impending signing of a normalization agreement between Israel and Sudan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anticipated trip to Morocco is a necessary step towards broadening Israel’s diplomatic relations with the region. By delineating shared areas of understanding, Israel can enable Africa to view an alliance with the Jewish state through the prism of partnership rather than paternalism.
Historically, Israel has adjusted its relations with Africa in alignment with U.S. policy, but this has failed to yield strategic dividends.
This may be changing, however. To its credit, actions taken by Israel’s current government demonstrate a resistance to policies that conflict with Israel’s national interests.
For example, Israel refused to join 38 Western countries and sign on to an American-led initiative condemning the Hungarian government for recent legislation that includes a law banning the promotion of homosexual content to minors. There was an obvious reason for this decision: Hungary is a crucial ally of Israel and one of the Jewish state’s most fervent defenders at the United Nations.
While the United States was likely disappointed with Israel’s decision, the episode failed to attract much media attention.
Another example is Netanyahu’s firm stance on withholding sophisticated weaponry such as Iron Dome from Ukraine. This decision is rooted in responsible concerns about sensitive information ending up in Iranian hands.
Israel has also successfully managed its relations with Russia on the issue of Syria. After an Israeli government review of the issue failed to yield a meaningful policy change, the Biden administration tempered its rhetoric. Reports have suggested that Israeli assistance to Ukraine was not a discussion point during Biden’s meeting last month with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
In other words, Israel’s unwillingness to compromise its security needs to placate White House demands was quietly accepted by the United States.
Israel should take a similar position in regard to Africa. An autonomous Israeli policy of cementing African alliances will foil Iran’s attempts to enter Africa and help reverse anti-Western sentiments rising on the continent. The White House may object, but such a policy is clearly in Israel’s best interests.