Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently held a secret meeting with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the first-ever high-level contact between the two countries, The Times of Israel reported.
An opposition-linked Somali website first reported two weeks ago that Mohamud and three other Somali officials met with Netanyahu and other Israelis in Tel Aviv. A senior Somali official confirmed to The Times that the meeting took place and that more more are expected soon. Somalia, a primarily Sunni Muslim state and member of the Arab League, has never recognized Israel’s existence, so diplomatic interaction represents a historic breakthrough.
Relations between the two countries have historically been rocky. The Arabization program implemented by Somali dictator Siad Barre during his 1969-1991 rule institutionalized hatred of Jews as a means to foster closer ties with Arab countries. Previous Israeli attempts to make diplomatic approaches to Somalia have been rebuffed.
Netanyahu did not confirm or deny the meetings when questioned by The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren at a press conference. “I don’t want to answer your specific question. I can merely say that we have lot of contacts with countries that we don’t have formal relations with. A lot of contacts.”
Netanyahu is currently on a diplomatic visit to Africa, during which he has met with leaders from Ethiopia and Kenya—two of Somalia’s neighbors—as well as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia. The leaders vowed to increase cooperate in fields such as counterterrorism, water management, renewable energy, and sustainable development.