Addis Ababa and the Middle East

Ethiopia Table of Contents

To undermine regional support for the Eritrean movements, after 1987 the Ethiopian government tried to develop better relations with several Arab countries. Between 1987 and 1989, high-level Ethiopian delegations visited Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. In the fall of 1988, Mengistu paid a two-day visit to Syria to explain to President Hafiz al Assad the various reforms the Ethiopian regime had recently made, including the creation of autonomous regions, designed to be responsive to the desires of groups like the Eritreans. Prime Minister Fikre-Selassie Wogderes made a visit to Cairo in November 1988 to seek improved relations with Egypt and to express support for Egypt's offer to negotiate a settlement of the Eritrean conflict. Despite these moves, Ethiopia's relations with the Middle East remained minimal.

By 1989 the lack of progress toward improved relations with Arab countries and the desperate need for arms appeared to have inspired Ethiopia to develop closer ties with Israel. Subsequently, diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had been broken off at the time of the October 1973 War, were restored. Approximately 10,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews; also called Falasha) had been spirited out of Ethiopia to Israel in 1984 in a secret airlift known as Operation Moses, and Israel remained committed to securing the emigration of the remaining Beta Israel. In return, Israel agreed to provide the Mengistu regime with military assistance.

Israel obtained the release of an additional large number of Beta Israel in May 1991 in the midst of the collapse of the Mengistu regime. Negotiations for another Beta Israel exodus were already under way, and large numbers of them had already been brought to Addis Ababa when the military government came under intense pressure from EPRDF forces. At the behest of both Israel and the United States, the government agreed to release the Beta Israel against an Israeli payment of US$35 million. On May 24-26, in what was called Operation Solomon, some 15,000 Beta Israel were airlifted from Ethiopia to Israel, leaving an estimated 5,000 behind, mostly around Gonder.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress