Netanyahu heads to Chad, expected to renew ties

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Israel Sunday for what he called a "historic" visit to Chad, during which diplomatic ties with the African state were expected to be renewed.

"I am now leaving on another historic and important breakthrough, to Chad, a huge Muslim country bordering Libya and Sudan," he told reporters before boarding the plane at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

"There will be big news," Netanyahu said, hinting at the formal resumption of diplomatic relations between the countries that Chad had cut in 1972.

The visit will be the first by an Israeli prime minister, Israeli media reported.

Netanyahu has sought to improve ties with countries in the Arab and Muslim world and said he expected more such diplomatic breakthroughs soon.

"There will be more countries," said Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election in April 9 polls while also facing the possibility of being indicted in corruption investigations in the coming weeks.

The one-day visit follows Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno's November trip to Israel.

The two leaders at the time declined to comment on whether their talks have included arms deals.

Chadian security sources say the country has acquired Israeli equipment to help battle rebels in the country's north.

Chad is also one of several African states engaged in Western-backed operations against Boko Haram and Islamic State group jihadists.

Pressure from Muslim African nations, accentuated by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, led a number of African states to sever relations with the Jewish state.

But in recent years, Israel has held out the prospect of cooperation in fields ranging from security to technology to agriculture, to improve ties on the continent.

Deby is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders.

He took over the arid, impoverished nation in 1990 and won a disputed fifth term in April 2016 to lead the country of some 15 million people.