A New Friend for Israel In. South Sudan

Article excerpt

At a time of diplomatic turbulence, Israel's diplomatic ties with the world's newest nation, South Sudan, can benefit its economy and security. While struggling South Sudan will appreciate Israel's aid, it's actually Israel that stands to gain.

The world's newest member in the community of nations got plenty of press coverage when it formally declared independence in July. But one aspect of South Sudan's emergence went largely unnoticed: the establishment of official diplomatic relations with Israel. Far from a routine gesture, the mutual declaration of recognition between the two states could prove to be a significant boost to Israel's strategic position, not to mention the positives that may come as South Sudan attempts to get its new state on a strong footing.

The leaders of South Sudan, a country with a feeble national infrastructure and a near-nonexistent formal economy after two decades of conflict with the north, will much appreciate the economic aid and leverage that comes with a new diplomatic relationship. But it is actually Israel that has the most to gain.

Israel's diplomatic outreach extends a measure of goodwill to the people of South Sudan - who need all the help they can get as their country begins the long process of setting up embassies, forming an independent foreign policy, and building up their agricultural potential. But the new partnership with the South Sudanese Government also provides Israel with an opportunity to create a foothold in a region that is known to export some its instability into the Middle East.

At the same time that the Israeli people continue to raise questions over the rising costs of housing, food, and fuel, the diplomatic relationship with South Sudan has the potential to alleviate some of those problems - that is, if the Israeli government is serious about working with a country projected by some to be Africa's biggest food producer. And while South Sudan certainly has years to go before its economy breaks free from the shackles of oil dependency, the technical expertise that Israel brings into the new relationship at least has a potential to make that transition a little easier.

Economics are not the only benefit for Israel. This new relationship could prove a huge boost to Israel's global standing - and its strategy of Iranian deterrence as well. Over the past several years, Iran - Israel's archenemy in the region - has been accelerating its own diplomatic push on the African continent in an attempt to compensate for its loss of markets in the west.

A concerted campaign by Israel to sponsor development projects in South Sudan, involve itself in promoting the country's untapped natural resources, and build people-to-people contacts that are genuine and long-lasting would take a significant potential market and relationship from Iran as it tries to survive economic sanctions on its nuclear program.

In addition to using its hard power to slow down Tehran's pursuit of an indigenous nuclear program, the Israelis will find it worthwhile to exploit soft power as well. Putting a good face on the African continent is one aspect of that soft power approach. …