MOGADISHU (HAN) July 9.2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. BY SHLOMO CESANA/ISRAEL HAYOM. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Uganda on Monday, the first stop of a four-day trip that will also include visits to Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Prior to his departure from Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday, Netanyahu said, “I am now leaving on an historic visit to Africa. This visit will begin with a summit meeting with leaders from seven African countries who are coming especially to Entebbe, Uganda, for this meeting, to welcome a prime minister of Israel for the first time in decades on African soil.
“Coming on a journey like this is also very important from diplomatic, economic and security perspectives and I am pleased that Israel is going back to Africa in a big way. We are opening Africa to Israel again. This visit will also include a moving meeting at Entebbe, where the great rescue operation was carried out. Also attending will be soldiers who participated in the operation as well as some of those who were rescued.
“All Africa is excited by this visit and I am very excited as well.”
On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu was set to take part in a ceremony at Entebbe International Airport marking the 40th anniversary of the famous July 1976 hostage rescue operation carried out at the airport by the Israel Defense Forces. The prime minister’s older brother, Yoni Netanyahu, was the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal special forces unit that carried out the rescue, and was the sole IDF fatality in the operation.
Netanyahu is being accompanied on his Africa trip by a delegation of around 80 businesspeople from over 50 companies.
Ramzi Gabai, the chairman of the Israel Export Institute, said, “There is great potential for Israeli exports to Africa and this potential is far from being fulfilled.”
Israeli officials are hoping that Netanyahu’s visit—the first by an Israeli prime minister to sub-Saharan Africa in three decades—will usher in a new era in which Israel provides African states with security and agricultural assistance in return for support in international forums.
The prime minister’s visit caps a budding rapprochement in recent years initiated by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, as foreign minister a few years ago, toured the continent on two occasions, after no Israeli foreign minister had visited in two decades.
In turn, dozens of African dignitaries have visited Israel in recent years, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Israel played a prominent role in assisting newly independent African countries in the 1960s, but those relations crumbled in the 1970s, when Arab countries, promising aid, pressured African nations to limit or cut ties with Israel.
With the recent rise of jihadism across the continent, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants in Somalia, Israel has found common ground with countries like Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.
While Israeli military exports to Africa are limited, Israel provides several countries with security training and assistance.
Israeli defense officials say intelligence sharing is limited to a few close allies for now. Israel has military ties with several African countries, and Israel’s Defense Ministry has given clearance for private Israeli security firms to operate in some nations, including some arms sales.
In exchange for its expertise in security and other fields, Israel wants African states to side with it at the U.N.
“We’re talking about some 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa who vote in one bloc at the U.N.,” said Arye Oded, a former Israeli diplomat and expert on Africa. “Netanyahu wants to improve relations with these countries… and wants more countries to not vote against us at the U.N.”