Salva Kiir, president of the newly formed South Sudan, traveled to Israel on Tuesday for one of his first trips abroad to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Israel recognized the country of South Sudan hours after it declared independence in July.
Israel has been a steady ally of the South Sudanese people and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, now the south’s ruling party, in their fight against Islamic extremists in the north. In the 1960’s, Israel assisted the south with agriculture and infrastructure development, and Israel allegedly provided the southern movement with arms during its war that ended in 2005. After the south declared independence, people celebrating in Juba — the south’s new capital — waved Israeli flags in what was seen as a sign of gratitude to Israel for its support.
South Sudanese wave an Israeli flag while celebrating their independence
During their meeting, Kiir and Netanyahu agreed that an Israeli delegation will soon visit South Sudan to determine how Israel can best assist the new country’s development. It is also believed that the meetings focused on solutions to Israel’s overflow of illegal immigrants from Sudan. An estimated 8,000 Sudanese refugees escaped the war-torn country and now live in the Jewish state.
Israel’s meeting with the South Sudanese president comes as the Jewish state continues to reach out to African countries facing challenges from Islamic extremists with the hopes of bonding over their common enemy. The leaders of Uganda and Kenya recently visited Israel, and Netanyahu is planning to visit Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya in February.
In a time of upheaval and uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa, news of a new African country that supports ties with Israel and democratic values is most welcome.