Israel’s Heart of Darkness in the Congo by Eitay Mack
(Translated from Hebrew by Tal Haran)
The State of Israel played a significant role in the military, economic and political survival of Mobutu for the first three decades of his rule, in the neo-colonialist version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
For 32 years General Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the Congo (formally called the Democratic Republic of the Congo) as one of the world’s most corrupt and oppressive dictatorships. His opponents were tortured and annihilated, and he became one of the symbols of the Cold War. Just as after the Belgian colonial regime ended, the US and the CIA helped Mobutu rise to power and do away with the more radical leaders of the national liberation movement. Documents in the files and archives of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which have been exposed to the public in recent years, attest to the fact that the State of Israel played a significant role in the military, economic and political survival of Mobutu for the first three decades of his rule, in the neo-colonialist version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Over the years, the Israeli press, especially Haaretz and Ma’ariv newspapers, reported on Israel’s relations with General Mobutu, but were bound by Israel’s military censorship. Recently exposed Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ documents confirm some of the details that were reported by the press and denied by the spokespersons of the various Israeli governments, army, and the Ministry of Defense, and have added further details which were unreported by the censored press.
Even prior to the Congo becoming a sovereign independent state, the State of Israel established ties with Congolese leaders – some of whom visited Israel- and had unofficial representatives in the capital, Leopoldville (later renamed Kinshasa). An Israeli embassy was then opened in Leopoldville immediately after the Congo became independent on June 30,1960. Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was considered a radical leftist. At a meeting of the Israeli Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security on August 23, 1960, the Israeli ambassador to the Congo, Ehud Avriel, refused to predict whether Lumumba’s government would hold, and said that the US hoped Lumumba would disappear, and that “it was not inevitable for such hopes to come true in some mysterious manner.”
Indeed, two weeks later, Avriel was proven correct by the ousting of Lumumba from office by President Joseph Kasa-Vubu, and a military coup led by Mobutu and backed by the CIA. Following the coup, Mobutu held the reins of rule for about 5 months, during which time he had Lumumba arrested and then executed on January 17, 1961, at the age of 35. On September 15, 1960, the day following Mobutu’s coup, Minister of Foreign Affairs Golda Meir criticized Lumumba in an Israeli government cabinet meeting, calling him “crazy”, and after Lumumba’s assassination, Israel resolved not to join worldwide calls to bring Mobutu to trial. In an Israeli government meeting on March 5, 1961, Minister of Foreign Affairs Meir only expressed that the State of Israel opposed any political assassination, and that “the Congolese have no patent on this.” In return for his involvement in the political and physical demise of Lumumba, President Kasa-Vubu appointed Mobutu the Military Chief of Staff, although prior to Congo’s independence from Belgium, Mobutu had only reached the rank of sergeant and served as a military correspondent.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assessment of December 1963, on April 29 of the same year the Congolese government requested Israel to help re-organize the Congolese army. Israel was asked to train a unit of paratroopers, and in July-August that year over 200 Congolese soldiers were trained by Israel in a paratrooper course, headed by General Mobutu, Chief of Staff, who jumped twice. At the government meeting on August 30, 1964, when Minister of Internal Affairs Shapira commented that Congo was hanging people at the same time that Israel was working with the army, Prime Minister Eshkol answered that “Damascus, too, saw people hanged yesterday, and I didn’t notice anyone shocked. Even the USSR is not shocked. It is normal over there.”
“Mobutu annihilated or ousted all of his opponents, at times cruelly, and is careful to oust people in key positions from time to time in order for them not to accumulate power that might jeopardize him.”
On November 24, 1965, Mobutu led a second military coup against Joseph Kasa-Vubu and declared himself President. A profile prepared by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “Mobutu annihilated or ousted all of his opponents, at times cruelly, and is careful to oust people in key positions from time to time in order for them not to accumulate power that might jeopardize him.”
Following the 1967 war and the occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian territories, the State of Israel’s relations with many of the African states became shaky, but admiration for Israel in the Congo only grew. According to a memo prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 28, 1968, Congo held an embassy in Jerusalem, and Israel kept a delegation of 11 army officers who trained paratroopers. In 1971 Mobutu changed the Congo’s name to Zaire
The paratroopers trained by Israeli army officers were the backbone of Mobutu’s regime and helped him suppress rebellions and separatist uprisings in the east and south, and to prevent coup attempts by other security forces. Thus, on April 12, 1972 at a meeting of “Forum Africa” at the bureau of the head of the Africa section in the Israeli Mossad, Nahum Admoni, commented that “in Zaire we are present in the (paratrooper) force that is a focal point and power center on which the local rule relies”. A survey of that time states that aid to Congo is military in nature: a delegation of Israeli officers comprised of paratrooper instructors in Israel’s paratrooper school, the paratrooper forces and infantry, and in 1969 117 Congolese were furthering their military training in Israel. “The regime relies especially on the army and first and foremost on its paratroopers.” The latter constitute “the regime’s backbone,” and would result in Mobutu’s admiration and appreciation of Israel. The survey of January 1973, too, states that the paratroopers are “the backbone of the regime.”
Although General Mobutu’s regime relied on the paratrooper force established and trained by Israeli officers, due to ongoing pressure on the part of the Arab countries and to strengthen his position among leaders of the African nations, General Mobutu used the outbreak of the Yom Kippur (1973) War to break his diplomatic ties with Israel. Mobutu announced this at the UN and began the second wave of disconnection from Israel (the first wave happened after the 1967 war).
Along with the sinking world prices of raw materials whose export constituted most of Congo’s economy, the reason for the severe economic crisis characterizing Mobutu’s regime during these years was its extreme corruption.
The aid Zaire received from Arab countries for ending diplomatic ties with Israel was negligible and did not spare the state from inability to repay its enormous debts and prevent its bankruptcy. Along with the sinking world prices of raw materials whose export constituted most of Congo’s economy, the reason for the severe economic crisis characterizing Mobutu’s regime during these years was its extreme corruption. This led to decisions of the US Congress to limit American aid, created obstacles for loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and held foreign investors at bay.
In addition to military and political interests, relations between Israel and Zaire relied upon General Mobutu’s deeply antisemitic ideas and their constant nurture by representatives of the State of Israel. Documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expose the fact that General Mobutu thought Israel was controlling the US and world capital, as well as Jewish investors, politicians and journalists throughout the world, which he believed could save Zaire from its political and economic crises after the proper instructions from Jerusalem. Israeli senior figures repeated to General Mobutu hollow promises about intending to motivate Jews in the US and all over the world to support him. When faced with reality Mobutu did not conclude that the State of Israel and the Jewish People did not control the world but rather grumbled, believing that the Jews would not help him because of the Israeli government’s resentment and vengefulness.
The Israeli government decided to make use of General Mobutu’s antisemitic views in order to convince him to renew their mutual relations. A document prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before its director visited Zaire, set for March 1980, stated that “American aid to Zaire this year is set at 40 million dollars. The American Congress has harshly criticized Zaire for corruption in the allotment of funds landing in private coffers, for waste of food and its sales, the private use of planes that were given by the US to Zaire as economic aid, etc. One may gently hint that through our special relations both with the Congress and with the government, we could help improve relations between Zaire and the US.”
As a part of the negotiations for renewing the two states’ relations, Israel agreed to take on the administration and farm development of the private ranch (about 100,000 dunams) (24 700 acres) that General Mobutu created for himself near his birth village with funds he had stolen from the state’s coffers. According to a report prepared by the new Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, David Kimche, on March 29, 1981, during his visit to Zaire he was taken by Mobutu’s private plane to the ranch and met five Israelis who were running it. Director Kimche wrote that he emphasized for General Mobutu the role of Israel as a loyal ally – strong and courageous – and that with Ronald Reagan being elected as the US President, Israel would be able to affect its American friends more than it had in the past.
Director Kimche told Mobutu that the new Secretary of State Alexander Haig was about to visit Israel. Mobutu asked Kimche to give Haig his regards and asked that Israel begin realizing its intentions to bring Zaire and the US closer together soon. Mobutu also asked for Israeli aid in order to facilitate his own visit to the US in September. Kimche wrote in his report to the Minister that he thought “Zaire could become a center of renewed Israeli activity in this part of Africa, and that our return to Zaire could affect our activity in other parts of the black continent.” Kimche assumed that the agreements reached with Mobutu would enable Israel to “look to the Americans as bearing real weight on the African subject.”
Director Kimche and General Mobutu decided, as a first phase, on the establishment of a low-profile bureau office for Israeli interests in Kinshasa, sponsored by a foreign embassy (after Denmark and Holland refused, the Canadian government agreed to help).
As for military aid, in that meeting General Mobutu told Director Kimche that he trusted Israel more than any other country and that he therefore needed Israeli aid on “the most delicate subjects” – help in organizing a special unit for his own personal a security as well as help in following activities of the communist delegations in Kinshasa and of Libya. On April 13, 1981, the director of the Africa section at the Ministry, Avi Primor, turned to Aharon Sharf of the Mossad, asking him to make sure the Mossad took care of Mobutu’s requests. A report sent by the Mossad representative in Africa to the Mossad HQ in Israel stated that two meetings with General Mobutu had taken place as well as a series of meetings with the heads of the Zaire security services, and that “they have their expectations from us regarding guidance and professional consultation in order to fully renew the inter-service relations, seeing this as leverage for advancing our political ties.”
On December 1, 1981, General Mobutu visited the United States. The Israeli Embassy in Washington DC reported that the head of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Congressman Howard Wolpe, pressured Mobutu for renewing relations with Israel and asked for an operative schedule. Mobutu requested American financial aid and declared to Wolpe that he was ready to renew such relations immediately, and was also actively promoting this with other African nations. Mobutu’s declaration was unconvincing to the US Congress Committee on Financial Allotment who ruled to reject the recommendation to allot 20 million dollars to Zaire for military aid due to corruption and the possibility that the funds would end up in private hands. Instead, only 4 million dollars was approved. Mobutu was offended and announced that he was giving up American aid altogether.
On December 30, 1981, a Mossad representative met with General Mobutu and they agreed on a visit in Israel by the heads of the Zaire Security Services in January 1982. Mobutu stated that he was in the process of persuading the president of the Ivory Coast to renew his country’s relations with Israel, and that he instructed the Zaire representative to the UN Security Council to abstain from voting on the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.
In 1982 Zaire was appointed a temporary member of the UN Security Council (the Zaire ambassador was later chosen as the Council’s chair), and the Council’s discussions about exerting sanctions on Israel following its legislation to annex the Golan constituted the first test for the developing relations between the two states.
On January 12, 1982, the head of the Africa Section in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a telegram to the Israeli delegation in Kinshasa, arguing that General Mobutu should be encouraged to have his UN ambassador exchange views with Yehuda Blum, the Israeli ambassador there. The US too pressured Mobutu. First the Zaire ambassador carried out various manipulations in order to delay voting and soften the motions on sanctions against Israel, both to placate Israel and to prevent the US from having to exercise its veto. Eventually the Zaire ambassador voted for a pro-Syrian motion. While at first Israel and the US presumed, he had received bribes and acted contrary to General Mobutu’s instructions, it was later understood that Mobutu himself had given in so that Zaire would not be the only African state to oppose the motion. Israel was angered and passed General Mobutu messages clarifying that the only way to placate it and the US was to immediately declare the renewal of diplomatic relations. Mobutu replied that he could not afford to recognize Israel on his own, but let it be known that he would try to organize a conference of several heads of state in order to convince them to join him in such renewal.
On May 2, 1982, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the Israeli delegation at Kinshasa that the Ministry of Defense had decided to loan Zaire 8 million dollars for the purchase of military equipment. On May 14 – Israel’s Independence Day – at Zaire’s ruling party’s convention, General Mobutu announced that he had decided to renew full relations with Israel after the latter completed its retreat from African soil (the Sinai Peninsula). Mobutu explained that he had come to the decision on his own, inspired by Sadat who had decided to go to Jerusalem without consulting the leaders of other Arab states. Thus, just as Zaire was the first African state to break its ties with Israel following the 1973 war, it was the first state in the entire African continent to renew them.
Following Mobutu’s public statement on the renewal of relations, the State of Israel initiated a global “congratulations campaign” which fed Mobutu’s anti-Semitic perceptions and inflated his false expectations from the Jews. In a May 21 telegram, the Israeli envoy in Washington, Ya’akov Nehushtan, informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem that the Israeli embassy had contacted many members of Congress and asked them to speak publicly in favor of Zaire’s decision, and as a result many members of Congress, including Congressman Chuck Schumer, sent Mobutu greetings and praised him for the step. The Israeli embassies and missions around the world requested dispatches of congratulations and encouragement to Mobutu from the Jewish communities, national organizations (for example AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and Bene Brit) and the local organizations in the USA (Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles), Canada, Italy, Belgium, France, Australia and Great Britain.
On June 14, the head of Zaire’s Intelligence Agency went to Israel and handed Prime Minister Begin a 26-page memorandum that included requests for aid by General Mobutu along with antisemitic claims, stating, among other things, that “we know the Jewish People and the State of Israel are able to mediate with certain governments and international financial institutions, both public and private, that often enjoy rather important Jewish participation.” Thus, Mobutu was asking for help exerting pressure on the International Monetary Fund to loan him a billion dollars for 3 years and convince his creditors at the European banks to spread Zaire’s loan payments over 25 years.
In addition, Mobutu asked that the Jewish People, Jewish organizations, and institutions, invest in Zaire so that such massive Jewish aid would convince other African states to renew their relations with the State of Israel. Regarding military aid, Mobutu stated “our great hope is that the State of Israel offer us aid in forming additional units and purchasing equipment for our land, air and naval forces. As for internal security – precise and swift intelligence is urgently needed in order to prevent the many incursions into our country from neighboring ones. Zaire needs help in guidance and equipment. Israel’s experience in this issue is known worldwide.”
On the same day, Deputy Director Ben Horin wrote to the Director Kimche, saying that “the entire tone of this memorandum, both in describing Zaire’s problems and its expectations from us, is rather severe”, and a “there is already Israeli military presence in Zaire, both as military instruction and the Mossad’s field of action”.
On June 20, 1982, Kimche told the Israeli delegate in Washington that Prime Minister Begin intended to meet with Wolpe at the US Congress, since “even if the PM would not persuade Wolpe, it is crucial for this meeting to take place for we must show Mobutu that we had done everything we could.” On June 24, PM Begin sent a letter to Mobutu detailing his talks in Washington DC, in Congress and with the American administration. Then during the swearing-in of Israel’s ambassador to Zaire, Michael Michael, on June 28, according to ambassador Michael, General Mobutu asked “his friend Arik Sharon for a gift in all seriousness and urgency – artillery over 120 mm including ammunition from Israel’s booty in Lebanon – crucial for his needs.”
The only person in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who explicitly warned of the danger in nurturing General Mobutu’s antisemitic ideas was Israel’s ambassador in Kinshasa, Michael Michael. In a telegram to the Ministry in Jerusalem on July 15, 1982, ambassador Michael wrote that he “was convinced that the real and main reason Mobutu had for renewing his relations with us was his will to have the US invest in aid, loans, and especially legitimizing his own rule. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion in its positive version made him believe that he could do so by using Israel. Apparently, all other considerations (and they are, of course, numerous) are secondary or even mere excuses made to others and perhaps to himself.”
Ambassador Michael warned that “since [Mobutu’s] expectations are not viable except in their most censured version, it is likely that within a few months he will be convinced that he has failed. Clearly, he will be deeply furious with us. The height of his expectations, disappointments, personality and character traits might yield hurried and far-reaching decisions.” Specifically, the ambassador warned that “Israel should refrain as much as possible from any kind of visit by delegations to examine possibilities. We know that no bank will offer him credit, he knows this as much as we do, and therefore sees such delegations as illusions. This also makes his internal situation more difficult because every such delegation is presented, unfortunately, as a false messiah.” Therefore, ambassador Michael suggested that “it appears favorable to convince him that his reasons differ from those mentioned above and make him believe this, or alternately that he would not be able to retreat.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ documents show that Mobutu did not change his antisemitic ideas and that the State of Israel continued to use them to promote its own interests, but as ambassador Michael predicted, Mobutu could not retreat from the renewal of the relations since, aside from fearing the American reaction, Israel was responsible for the training and equipping of the Presidential Brigade in Zaire and in fact, for the physical safety of Mobutu and his closer circle.
PM Begin planned to visit Zaire in summer 1982. This visit was postponed several times until it was finally canceled because of the First Lebanon War and Israel’s entanglement in Beirut. On December 1, 1982, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yitzchak Shamir met Mobutu and they signed an agreement on technical assistance.
Efforts made by the Washington Israeli embassy on behalf of Zaire were a grave mistake.
On January 3, 1983, legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Elyakim Rubinstein reported to the Ministry’s Director Kimche that the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the US Congress told him that “in their opinion, efforts made by the Washington Israeli embassy on behalf of Zaire were a grave mistake. The Zaire regime is seen as most corrupt, dispossessing and oppressive. A Congress delegation to Kinshasa had actually witnessed Mobutu’s men beating opponents after the latter met with the American guests. Support and pressure on our part on behalf of Zaire serve as a weapon for our enemies and hostile elements in the US.” Rubinstein answered the chairman that Israel’s support of Zaire is given because of Mobutu’s courage to “break the ice,” and should not at all be regarded as Israeli identification with his internal policies.
In January 1984, Israeli President Haim Herzog visited Zaire. The summary, prepared by the director of the Africa section Avi Primor on the President’s visit to Zaire, stated that Herzog heard Mobutu expressing “harsh things in bitter tones.” Mobutu complained that Israel was demanding he “put a dollar on the table before you receive a single bullet…”, offended that “we hold him by the throat,” and disappointed that no Israeli and American-Jewish activity was noted in Zaire in spite of many encouraging messages by Jewish Americans. Regarding economic aid, Primor wrote that Israel had not yet succeeded in convincing Jewish Americans and Israeli companies to invest in Zaire because of the dangers it presented, and as because the Israeli government was not willing to guarantee and insure foreign trade with that country.
On April 13, 1984, Israeli ambassador to Kinshasa, Michael, who had been ambassador to Uganda in 1960-1965 and witnessed Idi Amin’s rise to power, sent a telegram to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem warning against the repetition in Zaire of the “Uganda Syndrome” process whose main ingredients had been “our willingness to concentrate and invest more in training units aimed at preserving the regime, and less those meant to maintain state security. Sincerely aiming to do a perfect job, we reinforced the elite units which was an easier thing to do over there. This involved containing more and more units in the Presidential Guard, that gained means and manpower.”
Ambassador Michael recommended not to enlarge the Presidential Brigade framework, and create instead an artillery force and to be more and more involved in the training of the Kamanyola Division. He assumed that this way, “separate, parallel and independent points of power would arise in the Zaire army, and we would transfer our efforts increasingly to serve the State of Zaire and not exclusively secure its regime.” He warned that strengthening the Presidential Guard could create “a ‘golem’ that would eventually rise against the sovereign,” namely a military coup. He concluded his telegram by writing that “we are actually helping to blow up the Presidential Brigade – an army within the army, a state within the state.”
In an August 30, 1984 report about his farewell meeting with General Mobutu, ambassador Michael wrote about Mobutu’s complaint: “when he has to send soldiers to a course in Israel, he is told he should deposit the money first. Military equipment stands unused because the Israelis are unwilling to send spare parts before being paid some hundreds of dollars. This also impacts the training of the units. No other state does this, only Israel.” On November 2, 1984, the new Israeli ambassador to Zaire, Yitzchak Sarfatti, was sworn in.
According to a telegram, on September 24, 1984, Mobutu met with the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the United States and with Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. At the meeting, Mobutu asked them an antisemitic question, “You have influence on the hill and in the government, in the media and in the banks. Perhaps you will try to persuade Wolpe to change his approach to Zaire?”
On February 6, 1985, Mobutu appointed the ambassador of Zaire to Israel, Negbanda Zambo Ku Atumba (appointed as ambassador to Israel in November 1983) as chief of his security services. He was to come to Israel on a farewell visit in April. In a telegram to Israel’s ambassador Sarfatti in Kinshasa on April 19, 1985, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Africa section head wrote that Negbanda arrived in Israel a day earlier and was treated by the Mossad to “dense study program.” Negbanda also met with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
“… as a token of friendship and cooperation, Israel gave Zaire a variety of military equipment at the total value of 15 million dollars”
In an April 14, 1985 document surveying the activity of Israel’s military delegation to Zaire, Yitzchak Aviran, then head of the Africa section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote that “as a token of friendship and cooperation, Israel gave Zaire a variety of military equipment at the total value of 15 million dollars” and that the “Cobra” unit was trained in Israel.
Due to the terms of its loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Zaire was limited in taking additional loans and therefore had difficulties in financing Israeli military aid with Israeli credit. In a telegram sent by Tzvi Reuter, head of the military export unit of the Ministry of Defense (SIBAT) to Deputy Director Avi Primor on April 22, 1985, he warned that an additional brigade at Kamanyola would not be operable without purchasing additional military equipment from Israel and the Israeli military delegation in Zaire might have to be reduced, with perhaps most of the Israeli officer having to be sent home. Reuter asked for a resolution to be taken considering the political implications.
On March 25, 1985, General Mobutu decided to accept President Herzog’s invitation to make a return visit to Israel. On May 5 Mobutu met the Israeli ambassador Sarfatti in Kinshasa and reminisced about his meetings with Former Chiefs of Staff Mota Gur, Yitzchak Rabin, and Shimon Peres during his prior visit in 1963. Mobutu said he was glad to hear about the possibility of planting a forest in Israel in his name, and that he would be delighted to visit the Tel Nof air force base. Ambassador Sarfatti suggested to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs the opportunity to have Mobutu meet Israeli officers whom he had met in 1963 and to arrange “a small reminiscing event (with slides)” to touch his heart. In response, the Israeli army suggested that his Tel Nof visit include a meeting with paratrooper instructors, a tour of training facilities, and a sky-diving performance. The speech prepared on May 10 for President Herzog to be delivered at Mobutu’s reception ceremony contained the words: “The people in Israel are all proud, Mr. Marshall, of the paratrooper’s insignia which you received after having undergone the training and exams like any Israeli paratrooper. This fact is an honor for us.”
A document titled “Subjects for a conversation with the President of Zaire,” prepared for Mobutu’s upcoming Israel visit, stated that “not many months after renewing relations in May 1982, Mobutu began showing feelings of frustration. He said we were not fulfilling expectations nor promises. This was expressed in talks that became more and more difficult with Israeli representatives meeting Mobutu in 1983-84. Even our President, welcomed in Zaire much more warmly than usual, heard very harsh words from Mobutu in a restricted conversation.” As for the economic situation, it stated that “Zaire has a hard time getting over its debts that amount to 5 billion dollars, in spite of arrangements with the International Monetary Fund and Paris and London organizations for postponing debts.” As for the economic cooperation, it stated that “there is hardly any Israeli economic activity in Zaire at present. We now know that no such economic activity could develop without Israel’s government changing its attitude and giving insurance to our firms to act in Zaire.” In regards to military cooperation, it said that “Mobutu has difficulty financing the units whose training was left to our personnel and especially purchasing equipment for them. He is also rather bitter about the huge sums that our officers cost him (about $10,000 dollars each). Therefore, Mobutu asks us to let him have credit to purchase equipment in Israel, be given gifts by the Israeli army, and have us partly cover expenses of maintaining our officers in Zaire.”
On the topic of the Washington lobby, the document said that “Mobutu claims that in spite of our promises we have not succeeded in improving his situation on the Capitol, even though his opponents there are all Jewish friends of Israel. He is right about this. He also realizes the US Jewish establishment does not feel that this is our top priority since pressure on that establishment is merely low-echelon and therefore not effective.” As for sensitivity about the State of Israel’s ties with the apartheid regime, if the subject comes up in meetings with Mobutu, he should be told that “Jews played an important role in the struggle against South African apartheid” and that “efforts Israel made to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel contradict the legend that Zionism is racism.”
According to a summary prepared by the head of the Israeli army’s delegation to Zaire, Colonel Joseph Shevo, for a discussion with the Directors of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense on May 3, 1985, about Mobutu’s upcoming visit in Israel, the renewal of military activity in Zaire began in 1982 even prior to the renewal of the two states’ diplomatic relations, as a delegation of advisers was sent to train the Presidential Brigade, and military equipment at the sum of 8 million dollars was purchased from Israel. Advisers were sent to found and train a regiment, train the ceremonial regiment, and for maintenance, arms, and intelligence as well as a personal adviser to the brigade commander.
According to Shevo’s summary, on January 20, 1983, Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon signed a contract for military aid with Zaire’s Minister of Defense. The contract assured sending 21 advisers (in fact 13 were sent because of Zaire’s payment problem), founding and training of the Presidential Brigade, organization and re-establishing the Kamanyola Division, help in reorganizing the Zaire navy, and help with communication equipment. It was decided that Israel would equip the artillery unit as a gift. It was agreed that all military purchases for 1984 would amount to 15 million dollars, for which the State of Israel was committed to assure rolling credit at the amount of 8 million dollars. Of the planned purchase list and advisers, Zaire purchased equipment amounting to 3 million dollars for the Kamanyola Division and paid 300,000 dollars for the advisers. A paratrooper regiment was founded and equipped in the Presidential Brigade, the ceremonial regiment was given basic training, and the elite company “Cobra” was trained, including in both firearms use and bodyguarding. In addition, there were the training of an officer course cadre, a squad commanders’ course, and two companies of recruits. The “Cobra” personnel were also trained in Israel. Colonel Shevo wrote that without purchasing the equipment necessary for training there is no point in keeping some of the Israeli military advisers there, and that in the present format they would terminate their job until the end of 1985.
General Mobutu visited Israel between the May 12th and 17th. He paid a visit to Yad Vashem (a Holocaust Memorial Site and Museum), and the Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Levi accompanied him in his “nostalgic” visit at Tel Nof. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ summaries stated that at lunch with Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Mobutu complained that in spite of the renewal of relations with Israel the American Congress, and especially so the Jewish congressmen continued their hostility towards him, as did international organizations. Mobutu mentioned that during President Herzog’s visit in Zaire, the President’s plane delivered equipment to Zaire, emphasizing this was within the agreement about the Presidential Brigade. PM Peres told Mobutu that he was confirming the credit for purchasing additional military equipment and would appoint a committee to check the details and conclude them. At breakfast the next day with Yitzhak Shamir, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mobutu complained that the Israeli press was writing things about him and about Zaire that were wholly untrue.
A report of the visit prepared by the head of the Africa section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yitzhak Aviran on May 19 mentioned that Minister of Defense Rabin thanked Mobutu for fully paying the salaries of Israeli advisors stationed in Zaire, and announced that in the future Israel would cover 50% of their payment, give Zaire credit of 8 million dollars for six years for buying its military equipment, and finance all training in Israel of soldiers and officers of the Presidential Brigade and the Kamanyola Division.
On August 20, 1985, in a meeting with Israel’s ambassador Sarfatti in Kinshasa, Mobutu complained that Israel was intervening in the decision on which armed force would receive the equipment purchased with the loan, and that he wished to direct it to new units he was about to create. A report prepared by Deputy Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Primor, in October 1985, stated that PM Peres met with Mobutu in New York but no document recorded their talk. Uri Savir, present at the meeting, said he took down “hardly 4 lines” since Mobutu simply repeated the same “complaints and resentments” he had towards Israel.
A report of the meeting in Kinshasa held by the Israeli Ministry of Defense representative with Zaire’s Minister of Defense on October 29, 1987, stated that Mobutu’s status and absolute rule over all power centers in the country was ongoing, and that Mobutu once again turned to Israel asking it to exert its influence in the American Congress through the Jewish Lobby in order to change the treatment he was getting. It also stated that the credit documents amounting to 8 million dollars were signed by the Israeli Ministers of Defense and Treasury and were waiting for the signature of the Attorney General. At the end of this procedure Israel could hand the said sum over to Zaire. An Israeli army delegation of nine officers trained the Kamanyola Division and Presidential Brigade. The embassy assumed that “the worsening economic crisis will make President Mobutu test the promises he received from Israeli leaders to act on his behalf in the US, and our efforts in this respect have not succeeded because of the negative image that Zaire has in Congress and the American media, while the severe problems due to the nature of that country require a centralist and authoritarian regime.”
The State of Israel went on to support the dictators of the Kabila family who ruled the country and robbed its treasures until 2019.
The documents of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs dating from the last decade of Mobutu’s rule until his ousting by the secessionists and the Rwandan and Ugandan armies on May 14, 1997, have not yet been made public. The Rwandan and Ugandan armies, too, were armed with Israeli weapons. Zaire changed its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the State of Israel went on to support the dictators of the Kabila family who ruled the country and robbed its treasures until 2019.