Co-opting Israel to East Africa’s struggle against encroaching Islamist terror topped the agenda of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in the third week of February,DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources disclose.
Their two countries are already bound by close military and intelligence ties. Kenyatta proposed expanding this partnership into a broad new alliance, comprising Israel and six East African states, for launching a combined campaign to rid their countries of the jihadist Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their affiliates, such as Somalia’s Al Shabaab.
Kenyatta said he had been entrusted on his mission to Jerusalem by Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. All six governments trusted in Israeli assistance acting as the lever for upgrading their Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which normally deals with drought and development enterprises, into a multilateral sword against Islamist terror
As an associate member of IGAD, Israel would undertake to reorganize is members’ armed forces, intelligence capabilities and anti-terror bodies, and outfit them with the weapons systems and advanced electronic equipment needed to root out the scourge of terrorism.
Kenyatta emphasized that the six IGAD member states were turning to Israel after taking fright from Nigeria’s plight. Its failure to grapple with the ferocious Islamist Boko Haram had sent oil-rich Nigeria’s economy into freefall and devalued its currency, the Naira, by half.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and counterterrorism sources add that after many years of close military and intelligence cooperation, the Kenyan army is receiving training from Israeli military instructors on tactics for battling Al Shabab inside Somalia and a supply of Israeli weapons tailored for anti-terror warfare. Israeli and Kenyan officers put their heads together on the planning of Kenyan army operations in Somalia.
Saturday, March 19, Kenyan troops Kenyan army killed 21 Shabaab terrorists after two Kenyan troops were killed in a Shabaab IED ambush in southern Somalia. The Kenyan army is part ofthe African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
In the past year, Israeli counterterrorism and intelligence agencies set up a special command center in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to lead operations against the Al Qaeda cells embedded in eastern and southern Kenya. When they met in Jerusalem, Kenyatta thanked Netanyahu for Israel’s assistance in breaking up most of those cells.
Ethiopia is another East African country with close military and defense links with Israel that go back many years.
Kenyatta explained that Israel was the six governments’ preferred partner for fighting terror, after the United States proved indifferent to East African concerns and limits its contribution to the war on terror to widely-spaced air strikes.
Although a US drone attack on March 7 eliminated 150 Islamist terrorists in Somalia, the Kenyan president said that US troops rarely emerge from their navy’s expeditionary base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to confront Al Shabaab.
Chinese efforts to step into the anti-terror void left by the Obama administration were likewise rejected by the East Africans. They are wary of accepting Beijing’s military and economic largesse because it comes with a hefty price tag of Chinese expansionist economic and military footholds in their countries.
In return for military intelligence assistance for combating terror, the six East African governments are offering Israeli firms preferential treatment for developing their markets. Netanyahu is expected by our sources to visit IGAD member capitals in the coming weeks to cement ties and finalize arrangements.