Martin Plaut posted: " Source: Ha'aretz Israel has had diplomatic relations with the autocratic Eritrean regime for three decades. But security ties have been kept secret, and most of what in known about them are due to foreign media reports whose veracity is debatableShare" Martin Plaut
Israel has had diplomatic relations with the autocratic Eritrean regime for three decades. But security ties have been kept secret, and most of what in known about them are due to foreign media reports whose veracity is debatable Share in FacebookShare in TwitterShare in WhatsApp
Eritrean protesters clash with Israeli riot police in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg /APAmir Tibon
Sep 3, 2023 12:26 pm IDT
The violent clashes in Tel Aviv over the weekend between supporters and opponents of the regime in Eritrea, and between many of them and the Israel Police, have pointed a spotlight on the diplomatic and security ties Israel maintains with the African country.
Diplomatic ties between the two countries have existed for three decades and are relatively open and aboveboard. But there is a security element that has been shrouded in secrecy; most of what is known about it is from foreign media reports, whose reliability is debatable.
Eritrea has an embassy in Israel, but does not currently have a permanent ambassador – a temporary appointee fills the role with a small staff at his side. The Israeli embassy in Asmara has been unstaffed for years, among other reasons because Eritrea closed its borders during the COVID pandemic.
“Quite a few foreign embassies are in the same situation,” a Foreign Ministry source knowledgeable about the situation told Haaretz.
The two countries formed diplomatic relations in the 1990s after Eritrea became independent. Since independence, the country has known only one ruler, the dictator Isaias Afewerki, who turned the country into one of the most isolated and totalitarian states in the world today. Nevertheless, Israel maintained ties with Eritrea over the years both on the diplomatic and security planes. At the same time, thousands of Eritreans fled to Israel, many of them trying to avoid being drafted.
In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected a petition calling for the Israeli government to release a Foreign Ministry paper detailing human rights conditions in Eritrea. The paper could have played a role in determining the status of Eritrean refugees in Israel, but the justices accepted the government’s position that making the document public would harm bilateral relations.
The court’s ruling provided a rare peek into the relationship between Israel and the murderous regime in Eritrea, which most Israelis are unaware of.
Reports in the foreign media alleged, among other things, that there was an Israeli base in Eritrea, that the Israeli Navy operated in its Red Sea territorial waters and that Israel has listening posts in the country that provide intelligence on countries in the region. No official Israeli source has ever confirmed those allegations.
In 2017, the Houthi rebels in Yemen threatened to attack “secret bases” that Israel supposedly operated in Eritrea. It should be noted that Israel supported Ethiopia when it was fighting Eritrean rebels seeking independence, but that didn’t stop Israel and Eritrea from cooperating after the latter won its independence.
A U.S. State Department report has described the difficult conditions prevailing in Eritrea, including disappearances, torture and particularly cruel punishment of regime opponents. The country's judicial system is entirely subordinate to Afewerki and its army makes use of child soldiers. The European Union imposed sanctions on the regime in the country in 2021 following its persistent violation of human rights.