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Israel eyes normalization with Mauritania, Indonesia to expand Abraham Accords

Jerusalem's efforts to add more countries to the Abraham Accords have intensified since Netanyahu returned to power in December.
Protesters carry the Palestinian National Flag during a march in support of the Palestinian people in Nouakchott, Mauritania on May 19, 2021. (Photo by MED LEMIN RAJEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is working to normalize ties with Mauritania, Somalia, Niger and Indonesia, in an effort to expand the Abraham Accords that saw Israel's ties normalized between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.

A report published Tuesday by Israel Hayom said Cohen is working to normalize ties with Mauritania, Somalia, Niger and Indonesia. The report notes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and special envoy Amos Hochstein are also engaged in these efforts to enlarge the circle of the US-brokered 2020 Abraham Accords.

Netanyahu said last month that he was hoping to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia, but Riyadh has repeatedly insisted that such a move would follow an agreement with the Palestinians. 

The Netanyahu government, however, has been able to build bridges with several African countries this month including Chad and Sudan. Last month, Chad opened an embassy in Israel  and Cohen became the first Israeli foreign minister to fly to Sudan.

Sudan had signed the Abraham Accords in 2020 with the United States, but did not finalize the move with Israel.

The Israel Hayom report finds that talks with Mauritania are more advanced than contacts with Somalia, Niger and Indonesia. Israel and Mauritanian had established diplomatic ties in 1999, following the Oslo Accords, including an Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott. Mauritania severed its ties with Israel in 2008 following the Gaza war. Israel Hayom reported that in his meeting in Berlin on Feb. 28, Cohen asked his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock to assist Israel in its efforts to normalize ties with Mauritania and Niger.

The situation with Somalia is different. Israel and Somalia never had diplomatic ties, but over the years, the Somali leadership has indicated its interest in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel on a number of occasions. Last July, a spokesperson for Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud said the government planned to consult the parliament on the matter. The strategic location of Somalia at the entrance of the Red Sea and opposite the Arab Peninsula is of interest to Israel, especially with the cooling of relations between Israel and Eritrea.

Niger and Israel also never maintained diplomatic relations. With France pushed out of Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger could become an important military hub for Western forces in the regional fight against jihadist groups. Also, as a global supplier of uranium, Israel is eager to have Niger in its camp, away from Iran's influence.

After the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, was mentioned as possibly next in line to join the agreements. Indonesian officials have said on numerous occasions that Jakarta will not enter into talks with Jerusalem until an advancement is made on the Palestinian issue. Still, Blinken raised the issue in 2021 when he met in Jakarta with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. While the two countries do not maintain diplomatic ties, trade ties are considerable. An Israeli trade delegation visited Indonesia last July, to explore the potential for bilateral connections through investment, start-up ventures and social impact initiatives.

Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer were in Washington for meetings on Monday. While they reportedly focused on the Iranian threat and growing tensions in the West Bank, the Israeli officials also discussed with their American counterparts joint efforts to add more countries to the Abraham Accords.

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