Revealed: how Israel helped Amin to take power

When Radio Uganda announced at dawn on 25 January 1971 that Idi Amin was Uganda's new ruler, many people suspected that Britain had a hand in the coup. However, Foreign Office papers released last year point to a different conspirator: Israel.

The first telegrams to London from the British High Commissioner in Kampala, Richard Slater, show a man shocked and bewildered by the coup. But he quickly turned to the man who he thought might know what was going on; Colonel Bar-Lev, the Israeli defence attaché. He found the Israeli colonel with Amin. They had spent the morning of the coup together. Slater's next telegram says that according to Colonel Bar-Lev: "In the course of last night General Amin caused to be arrested all officers in the armed forces sympathetic to Obote ... Amin is now firmly in control of all elements of [the] army which controls vital points in Uganda ... the Israeli defence attaché discounts any possibility of moves against Amin."

The Israelis moved quickly to consolidate the coup. In the following days Bar-Lev was in constant contact with Amin and giving him advice. Slater told London that Bar-Lev had explained "in considerable detail [how] ... all potential foci of resistance, both up country and in Kampala, had been eliminated". Shortly afterwards Amin made his first foreign trip; a state visit to Israel. Golda Meir, the Prime Minister, was reportedly "shocked at his shopping list" for arms.

But why was Israel so interested in a landlocked country in Central Africa? The reason is spelt out by Slater in a later telegram. Israel was backing rebellion in southern Sudan to punish Sudan for supporting the Arab cause in the Six-Day War. "They do not want the rebels to win. They want to keep them fighting."

The Israelis had helped train the new Uganda army in the 1960s. Shortly after independence Amin was sent to Israel on a training course. When he became chief of staff of the new army Amin also ran a sideline operation for the Israelis, supplying arms and ammunition to the rebels in southern Sudan. Amin had his own motive for helping them: many of his own people, the Kakwa, live in southern Sudan. Obote, however, wanted peace in southern Sudan. That worried the Israelis and they were even more worried when, in November 1970 Obote sacked Amin. Their stick for beating Sudan was suddenly taken away...

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Judith Apter Klinghoffer - 9/2/2009

The Western (Israel was not alone)overthrow of Obote is another sad example of replacing bad with worse. Sudan was certainly not the only and probably not even the primary reason for the overthrow. Obote moved to the left, not even the USSR left but the Chinese left ideologically and economically. MIA 5 was probably involved as well as Bar lev though Slater probably knew nothing about it.
Israel was involved with Africa. It was trying to acquire friends everywhere to counter the Arab boycot. It did not only train it's military but earned an excellent name with its development projects. The Arab countries tried to undermine Israeli-African cooperation and after 1973 the oil money helped them convince African leader to cut ties with Israel. Khaddafi was particularly active in that project and Amin was one of those whom the libyan bought. After his overthrow by the same Obote, he was given assylum in Saudi Arabia where he ended his life most agreeably.
Israeli African relalions have yet to fully reconver. Pity is served both well. I was lucky enough to visit Africa during the early 70s and witness personally the high regard Isael enjoyed in the continent.

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