In its diplomatic war against Israel, Pretoria aligns itself with actors that on the African continent drive the tide of Islamic-jihadist terror.
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South Africa continues to taunt the national-security interests of the United States. Earlier this year, amid American allegations that South Africa had supplied arms to Russia, the U.S. rebuked the government for hosting Russian and Chinese vessels for naval exercises. Now the administration in Pretoria has emerged as one of the staunchest allies of Iran and Hamas in the diplomatic war against Israel. It has repeatedly sought to excuse or downplay Hamas’s culpability for October 7, while stridently attacking the Israeli response. Beyond such rhetorical support, the particular risk is that South Africa will come to supply material support and sanctuary to Iran and its proxies in Africa.
On the day of the so-called Al-Aqsa Flood operation, South Africa’s foreign ministry issued a statement that not only did not condemn Hamas for the mass slaughter of defenseless people but did not even mention the terror group, instead managing to put the blame for what it euphemistically called this “new conflagration” entirely on Israel.
Subsequently, South Africa’s government, along with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, has sought to delegitimize Israel’s military action in response, accusing the Israeli military of “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes,” “violations of the Geneva convention,” and committing “genocide” against the Palestinians.
Pretoria has further sought to obstruct Israel’s efforts to clear Hamas out of Gaza by supporting demands at the United Nations for an “immediate comprehensive ceasefire.” After a protracted silence on the matter, the government began including bland criticisms of Hamas’s actions on October 7, but always in the context of accusing the Israelis of far more heinous crimes. The international community must “not fold its arms,” one cabinet statement went, “while the Israeli government perpetrate a Palestinian holocaust.”
Following the outbreak of the war, South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, had at least one friendly chat with the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and also undertook an official visit to Tehran, where she met with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. Her ministry has said that the International Criminal Court should have issued arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other key decision makers in Israel for the “murder of children, women and the aged” in Gaza.
In the latest escalation of its barbs against Israel, South Africa’s cabinet announced that it would be recalling all its diplomats from Tel Aviv for consultations. The government also issued a démarche against Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, for “disparaging remarks” he allegedly made about those “speaking against the holocaust” supposedly being committed by his government.
That rhetoric reflects the South African government’s increasingly close ties to Iran and a related long-running effort to forge fraternal ties with Hamas, an organization that the ANC regards as a fellow “liberation movement.” The formal contacts between Pretoria and Hamas date to at least May 2007, shortly before Hamas took complete control of the Gaza Strip, when South Africa’s then intelligence minister invited a Hamas delegation to visit the country. In 2015 the then head of Hamas’s political bureau, Mousa Abu Marzouk, was invited to South Africa together with his deputy and held meetings with the government and with leaders of the ANC. In 2017, Hamas was invited to attend the ANC’s 54th National Conference, at which Cyril Ramaphosa, the current South African president, was elected party leader.
This cozying up to Hamas ran parallel to an increasingly hardline stance against Israel. At its 2017 conference, the ANC adopted a resolution to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a “liaison office.” The following year, the South African government said it was proceeding with the downgrade. South Africa’s ambassador to Israel was also recalled and has not been replaced since.
Pretoria should tread carefully. American taxpayers have stumped up billions of dollars in development assistance for South Africa. Preferential trade negotiations with the United States are at an advanced but delicate stage. European diplomats, already startled at the government’s support for Russia on Ukraine, read the signals on Iran with apprehension. At home, polls show the ANC to be near surrendering its two-decade-old national majority in elections scheduled for next year. Central to that outcome will be the votes of black Evangelical Christians, who will be alarmed to learn of their government’s aligning itself with Middle East actors who on the African continent drive the tide of Islamic-jihadist terror. That tide has swept southward to reach South Africa’s northeastern border with Mozambique, leaving a wreckage of church burnings and beheadings in its wake.
It is difficult to identify the considerations of national interest at play in the South African government’s response to the Hamas attack and the war with Israel that it provoked. As always with ANC government diplomacy, the decision-making on display is likely informed by a mixture of cupidity and the party’s Soviet-era ideology. In the old unipolar, post–Cold War era, the South African government made at least some efforts to keep its anti-Western sentiments in check. But as a new multipolar world emerges, such caution is increasingly thrown to the wind.
Source » nationalreview