Ethiopia and Israel’s shared struggle against terror and subversion

The West must stop appeasing a terrorist group that wants to destroy Ethiopia and conquer the Horn of Africa.

A ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Mekelle, Ethiopia, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo: Paul Kagame/Flickr.
A ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Mekelle, Ethiopia, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo: Paul Kagame/Flickr.
Fasil Legesse
Fasil Legesse

The decades-long relationship between many African nations and Israel has today converged around a critical shared threat. Radical terror networks in the Middle East have extended their activities to the Horn of Africa and Africa’s northern region in general, and are assaulting and destabilizing countries across the continent.

Ethiopia, one of Africa’s largest democracies and most populous nations, with 120 million citizens, is facing subversion in an ongoing deadly terror insurgency. Israel has faced similar challenges for decades.

In Ethiopia, a terror group known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a self-declared Marxist-Leninist organization with roots in the Soviet-backed Third World liberation movements of the 1970s, has killed or wounded thousands of civilians in its ongoing armed insurrection against both the democratically-elected government and the multiethnic society of Ethiopia.

TPLF has been banned from Ethiopian politics since May 2021 after being designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian parliament. Its dual identity as a political force and a terror group is reminiscent of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and factions of the PLO in disputed Judea and Samaria. These groups dominate domestic politics while engaging in political violence and terrorism.

Over the past three years, the TPLF has systematically terrorized the civilian population of Ethiopia’s Afar and Amhara regions, killing women and children, destroying villages and plundering private and public property while looting and demolishing schools, hospitals and other public institutions.

Many in the West ignore TPLF’s political and ideological history. Its leaders were influenced by and associated with revolutionary ideologues and terrorist operatives from groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and others. TPLF has long concealed its two-faced identity. It was established as an ethnic “liberation front” and used political violence to pursue its goals. When it was part of the ruling party in Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018, TPLF relied on terror because its survival was based on unravelling the Horn of Africa and reconfiguring the region around its preferred ethnic and linguistic lines, revealing its radical separatist worldview.

A recently-leaked TPLF internal strategy document revealed its true radical and violent identity. Working with terror allies such as Al-Shabaab, into which TPLF inserted sleeper cells, it has taken its political violence and subversion beyond Ethiopia.

Regrettably, Western countries led by the United States have expressed full-throated support for the TPLF, overlooking its commitment to terrorizing and subverting Ethiopian society. Moreover, some Western officials have gone so far as to appease the TPLF, emphasizing the recent announcement that the group accepts the African Union peace process intended to peacefully resolve the conflict. Yet these officials were silent when TPLF issued statements undermining efforts by the Ethiopian government to do precisely that.

The truth is dire. Ethiopians in the Tigray region have become hostages to this terror group. From its very inception, the TPLF was a kind of cult. It uses deception tactics to lead its members to blind obedience, killing or torturing political opponents. It’s time to expose this dangerous group.

TPLF’s ultimate aim is the disintegration of the ancient nation of Ethiopia by dismantling the constitutional order and seizing power by force. Its leaked strategy document also revealed foreign interest in inciting rebels within Ethiopia. Some neighboring countries have been arming the group in order to delay or prevent the construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam.

The international community must act now to stop TPLF in its campaign to regionalize its influence and violence. The TPLF’s masquerade as a local liberation front has fooled many in the international community. Similar to international pressures on Israel to reach a diplomatic agreement with Hamas and the PLO, Ethiopia is being asked to undertake a futile and dangerous task. Terrorist groups and their supporters and enablers cannot be appeased.

Ethiopia is a peace-seeking democratic federal republic and a close ally of Israel. Both countries seek peace, security and stability and are working for the betterment of both nations. The economic partnership between the two historically-linked countries is very important. The Ethiopian government has expressed its commitment to an African Union-led peace process.

The mission of the moment is for Israel to help its democratic African ally to convey to the U.S.-led Western powers that the nature of TPLF’s threat to Ethiopia’s peace and security also extends to the Horn of Africa, the rest of the African continent and beyond.

The stakes are too high to ignore.

Fasil Legesse is an Ethiopian-Israeli journalist and the Director of Israel Ethiopian TV.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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