The article examines the early interactions between Israel and the Sahelian states of Mali and Chad. Initially, the Sahelian states viewed Israel as a unique model of development and socialism, while Israel hoped to find a moderate and accepting version of Islam. Israeli perceptions of the benign yet malleable nature of African Islam prompted efforts to protect it from negative 'Arab' influences. Nevertheless, these early assumptions quickly faded. Many Sahelians became disillusioned with Israel and sought more reliable allies, while Israel increasingly reverted to forging alliances with non-Muslim minorities and pro-Western forces in the region. Investigating early Israeli-Sahelian relations highlights the complexity of the global discourse about African Islam, illustrates the role of perceptions and expectations in shaping international relations, and adds an important layer to the analysis of African-Israeli contact in the era of decolonization.