[This article appeared in the September 1969 issue of the new American left-wing monthly Leviathan. The group that collectively authored the article, the Africa Research Group, was founded to investigate the United States’ imperialist penetration of Africa. During the research, the group came across the special role that Israel plays in Africa. The current article, dedicated to this topic, was reprinted by ISRACA in London. The article was meanwhile translated to Hebrew, but was then disqualified for publication in Matzpen by the Israeli military censorship. Eight years later, in 1977, Matzpen was finally allowed to publish it].

For over ten years, Israel has played a relatively invisible but strategically important role in Africa as a servant of the United States-organized Free World Empire. Just as the

Central Intelligence Agency needs liberal and social democratic organizations as agents for its own counter-revolutionary activities, so certain departments of the US government have sought to develop a “Third Country” technique for carrying on the word of Imperialism. Although not without her own independent objectives in the Third World, Israel has allowed herself to become a willing accomplice of neo-colonialism and counter-revolution in Africa. With economic aid from the US, Britain, France and West Germany, Israel has carried out a selective and highly strategic series of “assistance” programmes in fifteen sub-Saharan African countries. The effect of these programmes has not only been to strengthen Israel’s own long-range political and economic goals, but also to further US imperialism’s objective of tying post-independent Africa to the West, and undermining revolutionary movements which threaten Western hegemony.

In overall terms, Israeli aid to Africa is statistically insignificant; her technical assistance makes up only about 0,05% of the total amount of external aid received in sub-Sahara Africa. At the same time, the character of these programmes and their strategic impact demand attention.

Detailed information about Israeli programs is available only in little known but highly revealing reports prepared by government “experts”. The most complete survey and analysis was prepared by a staff member of the US Agency for International Development (AID). A second unpublished study is by a researcher for the Department of Defense. Among the published studies, the most significant is “Israel and the Developing Nations: New Approaches to Cooperation”, written by Leopold Laufer, a State Department official and former policy advisor to the Voice of America, and published by Twentieth Century Fund.

The evidence shows that (1) the US government has helped shape the style and substance of Israeli assistance programs to Africa; (2) the US and its allies have helped finance these programs by means of the semi-covert “third country” technique; and (3) Israeli “assistance” has been concentrated in strategically important areas, particularly in specialized military training with direct “counter-insurgency” applications.

Israel’s penetration of Africa began in 1957 when her national interest prompted her to seek political allies in the Third World. The Suez affair of 1956 had identified Israel too closely with the interests of Great Britain and France. It has reinforced Arab efforts to brand Israel as a “tool of imperialism” and had provided too much hard evidence for political comfort. Moreover, the growing strength of Moslem nations, and the emerging Afro-Asian Solidarity movement, born at the Bandung Conference in 1955, threatened to isolate Israel politically and economically. Israel’s response was to seek to improve her image among Third World nations by offering assistance programs that would speed their “nationalist”, and in some cases “socialist” development. From their inception, however, these programs have served the interests of neo-colonialism, even as they have pretended to subordinate themselves entirely to African aspirations and to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of idealism.

The Third Country Technique

At about the same time that Israel initiated her penetration in Africa, America’s growing cadre of Africa strategists decided an Israeli presence there could be useful. The late Arnold Rivkin, an economist who headed the Africa Research Project at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s CIA-organized Center for International Studies and who later went on to a key role at the World Bank, was one of the first Americans to state publicly the assumptions which underlay the US decision to take advantage of the divergence of interest between the US and Israel on the African front. In a 1959 article in Foreign Affairs, Rivkin wrote that Israel’s moderate form of socialist development could serve as an important example to developing nations in revolt against the West. “The Israeli model,” he declared, “may well prove to be a sort of economic ‘third force’ – an alternative differing from the Western pattern, but certainly far more compatible with free-world interests than any communist model”.

Later, in “Africa and the West” (Praeger 1961), he outlined the way in which the US could support Israeli penetration: “Israel’s role as a third force might also be reinforced by imaginative use of the Third Country Technique. A Free World state wishing to enlarge its assistance flow to Africa might channel some part of it through Israel because of Israel’s special qualifications and demonstrate acceptibility to many African nations”.

Rivkin’s proposals made sense within State Department and CIA policy planning councils. US policy makers had for years been covertly channeling money to “third force” agents as part of their global crusade against communism and revolution. In Europe, as has since been revealed, millions of CIA dollars propped up and energized social democratic labour, student, professional, and political groups which were moderately socialist but militantly anti-communist. With regard to the Third World, only the right-wing hard-liners grouped around John Foster Dulles in the State Department thought that such a technique may jeopardize US interests. More sophisticated strategists recognized that dependency and Western control could be achieved within the framework of programmes fitted to the form of “neutralism” and “non-alignment”.

Because, as Rivkin observed in Foreign Affairs, “Africa saw in Israel a relatively neutral source of assistance, without any of the possible ideological implications which might attach it to the West or the Communist bloc”, a strategy could thus be fashioned to take advantage of these illusions and reinforce the strength of the Free World.

Between 1951 and 1962, Israel received 315 million dollars in aid and assistance from the United States. From 1950 to 1964, the UN and its specialized agencies – themselves often shaped and controlled by the US – spent over 5 million dollars on experts and fellowships for Israel. These aid programmes built a network through which US expertise was imported to Israel only to be exported by Israeli nationals somewhat later. Of course, Israel did not adopt American techniques wholesale, but instead modified them with a distinctive twist based on Israeli experience. Nonetheless, the US was pleased with the manner in which this aid implemented the US-conceived “Third Country” technique. Henry Chalfant, former US Mission director in Israel, testified to US intentions when he wrote: “Israelis selected for training abroad were carefully chosen with a view to returning to Israel as disseminators of skill and knowledge to others. This ‘multiplier effect’ is an essential element of any programme of technical assistance… The high quality of the trained Israelis further attested to by the fact that Israel is now and has been in recent years transferring these acquired skills and knowledge to less fortunate people through a technical assistance programme of her own” (See Laufer, “Israel and the Developing Countries: New Approaches to Cooperation”, 20th Century Fund, 1968).

Israel’s assistance programmes in Africa assume several basic forms: (1) highly trained Israeli experts are placed at the disposal of African states, often in strategically important positions; (2) various categories of African personnel, including students, civil servants, labour leaders, and military cadre, are given specialized training in Israel itself; and (3) Israeli businessmen and their government have set up joint economic enterprises with African states and private corporations.

In the first category, most of the important specialized assistance is military and para-military in nature. Non-military assistance programmes utilize the “parallel training approach” – that is, while Israeli experts serve abroad, Africans are given specialized training in Israel. This assistance has been highly diversified embracing everything from poultry training in Guinea to setting up national lotteries in Dahomey; from youth movement organizing in Gabon to pediatrics in the Upper Volta.

Israel’s agricultural programmes are organized along military lines and carried out either directly by the military or by agencies linked to it. Before he became Defense Minister, General Moshe Dayan took an active interest in shaping Israel‘s agricultural programmes in Africa. This reflects the militarization of agriculture in Israel itself. Since the kibbutz system and most Israeli collective farms are closely tied to the national defense effort, the agricultural programme has been organized along para-military lines. It is this highly political model of organization which Israel exports to Africa.

National Building

Israeli efforts seek to assist neo-colonial states in mobilizing their populations for “development”. In the area of youth mobilization, Israel has developed the “Gadna” (Youth Battalions) and the “Nahal” (Fighting Pioneer Youth), which have been used as models for similar programs in African States.

Nahal is for young men and women of military age and includes regular military training, followed by agricultural settlement in difficult or dangerous places. By 1966 Israeli experts had organized this type of “Nation-building” program in thirteen African countries: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. Other Israeli advisers carried out similar activities in Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Singapore.

In these countries, all with primarily agricultural economies, Israeli experts often seek to impose Israel’s pseudo-socialist “moshav” as an alternative to more radical collective forms of organization. According to Peter Worsley, “African independent peasants working on their own patches within the context of a traditional community culture… find the Israeli ‘moshav’ a more relevant model than more strictly collectivist forms of organization such as the Soviet ‘kolkhoz’ or the Cuban State Farms.”

Training programs conducted in Israel have served to enhance Israel’s political reputation on the continent while performing an important ideological and training function for imperialism. Most such programs are brief in duration and highly concentrated in nature. More than nine thousand “trainees” from the Third World have been exposed to Israeli seminars, conferences, and training courses, but only a few hundred students have spent more than a year in the country. Most of these courses are for middle-level personnel, and they concentrate, according to Laufer, on “transmitting new ideas and attitudes”.

“The Israelis have learned,” he reports, “that trainees brought to Israel for short periods of highly intensive, controlled exposure usually carry away with them a more favorable image than those who stay for longer periods… Since the exposure to Israel is selective, the trainees encounter the most attractive aspects of Israeli life and society.”

Specialized training in Israel is provided on several levels. Government ministries offer courses, as do quasi-government agencies such as the Israeli labor complex, the Histadrut. The Histadrut, a nominally socialist union, sponsors its own Afro-Asian Institute for Labor Studies and Cooperation, headed by Eliahu Elath, Israel’s first ambassador to the United States. It turns out thirty to fifty “trained leaders” every three or four months. Significantly, this institute was launched with a $60,000 grant from the AFL-CIO [The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is the official name of the United States’ largest trade union movement] and its affiliated national and international unions such as the British TUC. Disclosures by prominent journalists in the United States have since revealed that the international programmes of the AFL-CIO are virtually integrated into and coexistent with the CIA’s international labour strategy.

African trade unions are highly political instruments, and the training which takes place in Israel seeks to depoliticize them by pushing a cooperative orientation rather than one based on the class interests of workers. “The emphasis”, according to Havard-trained labour “expert” Arnold Zack, “is on cooperation with other segments of society; comparatively little time is devoted to skills of building trade unions as a power force in the country.”

Another professionally-run Israeli institute, the Centre for Cooperative and Labour Studies in Tel Aviv, which caters to Latin American trade unionists, is supported by the foreign ministry and the Histadrut. Laufer notes that “occasionally the Centre runs three weeks seminars for South American trade unionists sponsored by the American Institute for Free Labour Development (AIFLD).” The AIFLD, although nominally based upon a partnership between labour, business and government, receives about 95% of its annual $8 million budget from the US Treasury. Openly funded by AID, and covertly by the CIA, it played a direct, important, and widely-publicized role in overthrowing the government of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana. (See Richard J. Barnet, “Intervention and Revolution”, pp. 240–1).

In the economic realm, Israel’s motivation for developing ties with Africa may be entirely independent and, in the long run, her rapidly developing trade relationships may represent a threat to Western economic hegemony. For the moment, however, her economic activity seems to assist in propping up neo-colonial regimes and in imposing a model of development that is at odds with the basic needs of most of the African people.

Trade between Israel and African nations is undergoing a significant growth in volume. The volume of Israeli exports to Africa stood at $11.6 million in 1963; by 1965 it was $21.5 million. Moreover, as Laufer notes, “it is probably more than a coincidence that the greatest increases have been in exports to those African countries (for example, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda) that also have an active technical cooperation programme with Israel”. African imports of such Israeli commodities as furniture, cement, and distilled soya oil, although small in absolute figures, amount to over 50 percent of total Israeli export of these items. Africa also purchases a significant percentage of the total exports of other Israeli products (See Samuel Decalo, “Israel and Africa: A Selected Biography”, Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 5., no.3, P. 391).

As a source of raw materials Africa is also crucial. The scale of Israeli imports from Africa is even more significant than exports; and it is growing rapidly.

With regard to direct economic investment in Africa, the most common method of Israeli penetration has been to set up corporations based on partnerships between Israeli and African public capital. By mid-1963, 42 such companies had been  established. According to the “Economist” (August 24th 1963), “instead of demanding control, or concessions for long periods, the Israelis almost invariably postulate as a condition of their participation that their share-holding must be minority. Contracts are limited to five years, at the end of which the local majority stockholders are given the option of buying the Israeli interest out”.


The seeming generosity of this Israeli policy is in fact based upon shrewd economic reasoning. As Laufer explains: “… joint ventures have enabled Israeli companies to enter new markets, with relatively small capital investment and under the benevolent protection of the governments of developing countries. Since in many of these countries domestic markets are closely guarded by long-established foreign or expatriate firms, the Israeli firms might have found it difficult to establish themselves without the partnerships”.

The fruits of these partnerships often do more to serve the interests and reinforce the power of the neo-colonial African bourgeoisie than to meet the basic socio-economic needs of the vast majority of the African people. For example, companies in which the Israeli quasi-public firm Soleh Boneh has been a partner have built an international airport in Accra, luxury hotels in Eastern Nigeria, fancy parliament buildings in Sierra Leone and Eastern Nigeria, and military installations in the Ivory Coast. This imitation of Western modes of economic life only serves to deepen the pattern of distorted development (or permanent “underdevelopment”) which the imperialist powers have imposed on the so-called “underdeveloped” nations.

It is in the area of military and police-intelligence training in Africa that Israel provides its most direct and effective service to imperialism. A large number of programmes quietly, often covertly, assist African states in developing counter-insurgency forces and techniques designed to protect neo-colonialist governments from being overthrown by their own populations.

Information about this dimension of Israeli penetration is veiled in secrecy. When a member of the Africa Research Group (ARG) first attempted to find data in this area, he was told that “whatever material exists is in Hebrew” and that much of it is “classified”. However, the ARG did locate one readily available source of great value: an American university master’s thesis by Sanford Silverburg entitled “Israel’s Military and Para-Military Assistance to Sub-Sahara Africa: A Harbinger for the Role of the Military in Developing States”. While concerned primarily with studying the role of the Israeli military in shaping the “nation-building” process, this document appears to be the most complete available non-classified breakdown of the range and import of Israeli military programmes. It includes an impressive amount of evidence from American, European, African and Israeli sources.

Sanford Silverburg is now a professional researcher on the staff of the Centre for Research in Social Systems (CRESS), a major research operation funded by the US Army to the tune of $1.9 million in 1967. CRESS presently has two divisions: a Counter-Insurgency Information and Analysis Centre (CINFAC), and a Social Sciences Research Institute which studies ways of improving the effectiveness of US military personnel attached as advisors to the armed forces of other countries.

CRESS’s interest in Israeli military programmes in Africa is part of its larger responsibility for developing research which aids the Pentagon’s commitment to preserve the Empire. The US has been a long-term supplier of military assistance to Israel. Between 1964 and 1967 military assistance to Israel amounted to $1.6 million while total US economic and military assistance was $127,000,000.

In 1968 the Department of Defense financed close to $2 million worth of scientific research through 32 contracts at Israeli universities and research centres.

Israeli military and para-military assistance programmes to sub-Saharan Africa have taken several different forms. One of the most common areas of involvement has been Israeli assistance in setting up national service youth corps, some of them para-military, in various African countries. Thus, for example, Israeli advisers have assisted in creating young pioneer youth movements in Dahomey and Malawi, and National Service Corps on the Israeli model in Tanzania, and an Agricultural Youth Corps in Togo.

In the area of military training, the Israelis have assisted in establishing an army school for civic action in the Ivory Coast, and a military academy in Sierra Leone. In Ghana, they helped to organize the air force and a flying school. They have provided training for military personnel from numerous African countries, including the training of nearly five hundred crack Congolese paratroopers in Israel.

There is also evidence, some of it not yet verifiable, that the Israelis have played a direct role in intelligence and counter-insurgency activity in several African nations. In Ethiopia, Israel has worked closely with the US in developing counter-guerilla and intelligence programmes. US assistance helps feudal Emperor Haile Selassie maintain his shaky throne, and in return Selassie allows the US to operate large military and intelligence bases on Ethiopian territory. However, with the failure of an abortive coup d’etat, led by US-trained Ethiopian military officers, American Special Forces “advisers” were withdrawn from Ethiopia and replaced by Israeli personnel. Since then the Israelis have been directing counter-insurgency activities against the Ethiopian Liberation Front.

In other instances, reports of Israeli activity are harder to substantiate. Tricontinental, the magazine of the Havana-based tricontinental solidarity organization OSPAAAL , reported in 1967 that two Israeli advisors had been killed in counter-insurgency operations with the Chad army against the National Liberation Front of Chad. Also, Kwame Nkrumah now charges that Israel played a pro-western intelligence role and had a hand in the coup which overthrew his government in Ghana. Although little hard evidence has emerged to substantiate this charge, it is true that Israel has shown considerable interest in Ghana, much to the consternation of the British who resent this intrusion in their neo-colonial sphere.

The case of the Congo provides a good example of the way Israeli military assistance integrates with the strategy of US imperialism. The US role in the Congo, one of Africa’s richest and most strategically located countries, has been notorious. By virtually all accounts, it is clear that the US played a determining role in re-structuring the Congolese government after the Katanga secession, the UN intervention, and the kidnapping and murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1960-61. According to Andrew Tully’s account in “CIA: the Inside Story”, the CIA played an important role in bringing General Joseph Mobutu, the current president, to power. Also, whereas the US had been content to rely on the UN to suppress the rightist government of Moïse Tshombe in Katanga, the radical nationalist attempt to seize control of the Congo from a base in Stanleyville provoked a very different US response. As the Council of National Liberation, led by Christopher Gbenye and Pierre Mulele, established control of large areas of the Congo and turned to African nationalists and socialist countries for support, the US initiated a programme of direct military intervention.

This programme, which began in October,1962, amounted to over six million dollars by mid-1964. Almost one hundred US military personnel were sent to train Congolese troops, and a dozen Congolese officers received training in counter-insurgency at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In addition the CIA recruited American pilots to fly combat missions in American-built fighter planes against rebel positions in Kivu province. When the Soviet Union objected to the use of American citizens in these actions, they were replaced with Cuban exiles. This activity culminated in November, 1964, with the use of US transport planes to drop 545 Belgian paratroopers in the Congo to rescue white hostages. This “humanitarian” mission succeeded in destroying the Stanleyville government and outraging African sensibilities.

In the course of developing effective counter-insurgency techniques, the US Army ordered an incredible study of “Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic and Other Psychological Phenomena and Their Implications for Military and Para-Military Activities in the Congo”, which the compliant researchers associated with CRESS-CINFAC and American University turned out in 1964. The conclusions of this report were directly relevant to the role the Israelis came to play. “Drawing upon the Belgian experience as well as that of Tshombe in Katanga”, its authors wrote, “it would appear that a more flexible approach to the military problem is to be found in the concept of elite troops: troops which are carefully trained and disciplined and well commanded”.

The insecure neo-colonial government in the Congo quickly adopted this concept. But, given the widespread outrage among African nationalists at the US role in overthrowing the Stanleyville government, Israel increasingly replaced the United States as the chosen vehicle for implementing and directing this “more flexible approach”. As early as 1963, 243 Congolese paratroopers, including General (now President) Mobutu, were sent to Israel for training. In March, 1968, Israeli advisors began training the First Para-commando Battalion, an elite unit which forms the central component of the Congo’s counter-insurgency and internal security forces. Given the persistent instability of the succession of Western-backed Congolese regimes, and the dramatic and relatively constant significance of the Congo as a focal point of the struggle between revolution and neo-colonial reaction in Africa, the partisan role which Israel has played in the Congo is of great importance.

On the diplomatic level, the Israelis often share information they obtain with Western embassies. In a recent interview, one observer said that this practice is widespread, and he cited Uganda as a country in which Israel plays such a role. In exchange, the US has shared its counter-insurgency expertise with the Israeli military in its effort to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to CRESS researcher Silverburg, Israeli officers, including General Dayan, have visited Vietnam for on-the-spot observation of US counter-revolutionary warfare. Silverburg also “guessed” that the “What We Learned” forms which US soldiers fill out after encounters with the NLF [The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was the formal name of the Viet Cong] “find their way to Israeli military officials”.

Selective Assistance

Israel does not disclose the full extent of its aid programme to Africa or indicate who pays the bills. In 1966-67 Israel’s Department of International Cooperation reported a budget of 10 million Israeli pounds (2.91 million US dollars). This figure, however, is very misleading, in part because Israeli costs are much lower than those of comparable US projects.

According to Laufer, more than half of Israel’s total programme is financed by non-Israeli sources. The US government, through the “Third Country” technique, has been an important contributor to these programmes. Even though exact figures on the US contribution are hidden, the Laufer report does mention some AID support for Israel’s youth programmes in the Central African Republic and Dahomey. It also mentions that “France has assisted youth projects in the Ivory Coast; and Great Britain and West Germany have reportedly given assistance to projects elsewhere in Africa”.

Western aid to Israel no doubt makes it possible for her to maintain an active programme of penetration in Africa. Israel still earns more revenue from monies contributed from abroad than on monies obtained from exports. Without international credits, and contributions solicited abroad with the cooperation and complicity of Western powers, Israel could not survive economically. Its balance of payments problems have always posed real difficulties for the economy. Thus, without finance from non-Israeli sources her Africa programmes would be inconceivable. As Laufer acknowledges: “Israel’s achievement in having more than half its effort financed from non-Israeli sources, is probably unique in the tangled history of postwar technical assistance operations. This shows how a small country, short of capital but with the will and objective capacity, can generate a sizeable technical assistance programme with little capital investment and negligible effect on its balance of payments position”.

Not all of the revenue for these programmes comes directly through the US or other imperialist powers. Some of the expenses are met by recipient African nations. However, these nations are often themselves dependent on Western aid. Hence the US or some other ally funding an African state, enables it to afford the expense of an Israeli assistance programme which itself is receiving Western support through other channels.

The Israeli experience has served as a model for similar ventures by US client states and may be a harbinger of new perspectives which are coming to inform more sophisticated modes of imperialist intervention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For example, in order to counter the influence of China in Africa, the US uses her client state Taiwan in an operation modeled on the Israeli example. The US “Third Country” aid and training allows Taiwan to maintain an assistance programme in Africa, which has already spent about $50 million since 1961. The Nationalist Chinese regime is recognized by twenty-one African states and has sponsored agricultural aid programmes in nineteen of them. In contrast, mainland China is recognized by only fourteen African countries and extends aid to ten of them. The Nationalist programme has had a measurable political impact. In 1968 only fifteen African countries voted for China’s admission to the UN, while twenty voted against Peking.

But the “Third Country” technique has not always been so successful, for it runs up against the deeply-rooted problems and contradictions which plague all Western attempts to shape impoverished African states to suit their interests. Strategies to modernize armies as institutions for national integration and development have backfired when African army officers have preferred a share in the power and privileges enjoyed now by the Western-backed neo-colonial elites. Many of these soldiers are not motivated ideologically to seek political change, and when they do, they prefer coup-style take-overs to the more “functional role” Western experts prefer. Clearly, foreign assistance, whether of the Israeli type or another variety, cannot escape the central contradiction: countries which are oppressed by an imperialist system cannot develop with selective “assistance” from the oppressing powers. In fact, these “assistance” programmes only increase dependency and subordination. Mindful of their own long-range interests, the Israelis have attempted to limit their activity in Africa to certain spheres which avoid political identification with the imperialist powers.

The true nature of Israel’s role and objectives, however, is slowly being unmasked, in part because of her own expansionist behaviour in the Middle East, but also in large measure because of the increasingly direct and partisan role which Israel has played in serving imperialism and neo-colonial reaction in such African states as the Congo and Ethiopia.

Like their North American benefactor, the Israelis have been forced into open counter-revolutionary warfare at home and abroad. Hopefully, the lessons of that fact will not be long in coming home to the African people.

* * *

The above article is reprinted from the American left-wing theoretical magazine, Leviathan, September 1969.

The Africa Research Group is a movement research and education project that focuses on analyzing the United States’ imperialist penetration of Africa. The group hopes to promote a more informed concern with and protest against the role the US plays in the domination of Africa and to contribute to sharpening and extending an anti-imperialist and anti-racist consciousness within movements for social change. The group wants to hear from people or organizations with similar research interests. The available publications include “Armed Struggle in Southern Africa” and “How Harvard Rules”.