The long short history of Angolan-Israeli state relations

Following the vote in favor of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2334 (2016) condemning illegal Israeli settlements of Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem, Israel cut diplomatic ties with 10 of the 15 member states that compose the UNSC. Israel reserved a specific retaliation for the UNSC’s two African member states: no more international development aid for Senegal and Angola.

Interpreted as a largely symbolic move, Israel’s reaction to Angola is, however, in sync with the longer trajectory of Israeli/Angolan foreign relations.

These relations have been both material and symbolic. The relationship has two distinct phases. Hostile at first, it began with Angola’s independence and emplotment in the global Cold War. In the wake of the Cold War, Israel-Angolan relations morphed into a friendly and lucrative bond. Yet, some of the discourses and commitments of the first phase are cross-hatched into the second phase. Angola’s vote on UNSC resolution 2334 is the most recent example, although Israel’s public outrage is new.

First, a thumbnail sketch of Angola’s decolonization. The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) declared Angola’s independence on November 11, 1975. Cuban troops and Soviet military hardware allowed them to hold off FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) forces bolstered by Zairean troops (and CIA funding) to the capital’s north. The MPLA had secured the city’s southern rim against a South African military invasion accompanied by a clutch of UNITA (National Union for the Independence of Angola) soldiers. In brief, independence, civil war and foreign intervention blossomed simultaneously.

The sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse noted that Israeli army brass helped plan the 1975 South African invasion of Angola. The strategy echoed that used by the Israelis to drive the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) out of Lebanon and the US strategy against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas (blamed for fomenting insurgency in El Salvador). In other words, this constituted part of a pattern of white settler states not only red-baiting but actively attacking liberation movements.

The South African invasion of Angola further drew on Israeli counterterrorism strategies developed in the West Bank and Gaza. Counterinsurgency cooperation in Southern Africa thus lit up a network of politics that spanned the Middle East, Central America and Southern Africa.

International revolutionary movements built their own networks of solidarity, military support, and educational training. Southern African liberation movements (the MPLA, Mozambique’s FRELIMO, South Africa’s ANC, and Namibia’s SWAPO), for their turn, struggled to protect or achieve their sovereignty in the face of obstructionist white settler states and Apartheid policies.

Various observers have reminded us of the similarities between Apartheid South Africa and Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands: population control, non-contiguous land areas, passbooks and special IDs, archipelagos of ethnicity, militarized states, torture, and terror. (Also not too distant, by the way, is the US history of Native American reservations).

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By Marissa Moorman