Netanyahu hails ‘milestone’ in Israel-Africa relations at summit

imageIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Momday hailed a historic “milestone” in the changing relations with Israel and several African countries.

Netanyahu arrived in Uganda on Monday for a rare tour of sub-Saharan Africa, seeking new trade partners and marking the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue in which his brother died.

At the Uganda Regional Counterterrorism Summit with leaders from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia, Netanyahu said that “this meeting I think will be a milestone, the meeting of seven leaders from African countries with Israel. I think it underscores the fact that we are in a monumental change in the relations between Israel and Africa, beginning here.”

“We are eager to share our technology in so many fields with our African friends. We think that Israel now is the best partner that the countries of Africa could have, and it’s something that is dear to our hearts,” he continued, adding “I believe this. I believe in Africa. I believe in your future and I believe in our partnership for this future. And I believe that this meeting will be seen as a turning point in Israel’s ability to reach a broad number of African countries, which is our goal. We want a better future for you, a better future for all of us, and we think we can be your perfect partners.”

image KABUUBI(AFP)”Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Entebbe, Uganda, July 4, 2016″

✕In a joint statement following the summit, the leaders said “At today’s summit, the leaders committed their countries to enhancing their cooperation in the fight against terror by sharing intelligence and utilizing new technologies, including in the sphere of cyber security.”

“Alongside the countries’ common security challenges are shared economic opportunities. The leaders discussed broadening and deepening regional and bilateral cooperation in many fields, including the deployment of new and innovative technologies, water management, agriculture, medicine, renewable energy and sustainable development,” the statement continued.

It concluded by saying that the African Union was re-granting observer status to Israel.

“The Participants look forward to the African Union promptly re-granting observer status to the State of Israel. This step will reflect the friendship and be mutually beneficial to both parties.”

Separately Netanyahu met with Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, and the two countries are expected to announce the resumption of full diplomatic ties. Tanzania cut off ties with Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, along with several other African nations.

As a part of the reconciliation, Tanzania will open an embassy in Israel.

The trip comes as Israel launches a $13-million aid package to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with African countries, said Netanyahu’s office.

Israel would also provide African states with training in “domestic security” and health, it said.

Operation Entebbe

Beyond diplomacy and trade, the trip also has deep personal meaning for Netanyahu.

His brother Yonatan was killed in July 1976 as he led a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda, to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans.

Speaking in Entebbe, close to the site of the airport raid in which over 100 hostages were released, Netanyahu said the visit was “deeply moving” and symbolized the changing relationship between Israel and Africa.

“Exactly 40 years ago Israeli soldiers carried out the historic mission in Entebbe,” Netanyahu said.

“Forty years ago they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists, today we landed in broad daylight to be welcomed by a president who fights terrorism.”

“I learned from my brother that you need two things to defeat the terrorists: clarity and courage,” Netanyahu said.

image“Air France passengers after they were released in the Entebbe operation in 1976”

Speaking during a commemoration event close to the old terminal building, Netanyahu said the fight against terrorism continued.

“When terrorism succeeds in one place it spreads to other places, and when terrorism is defeated anywhere it is weakened everywhere. This is why Entebbe… was a victory for all humanity,” he said.

Netanyahu said the Entebbe raid was “a watershed moment” for Israel when the country learned to stand up for itself.

“It was the most daring rescue mission of all time. We were powerless no more, we would do whatever it takes,” he said.

Netanyahu was given a gun salute on arrival and then proceeded to the 40th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the old airport terminal.

Room for growth

Israel’s dealings with Africa currently constitutes only two percent of its foreign trade, leaving plenty of room for growth.

Demand is rising for its defense expertise and products.

imageAvi Ohayon / GPO”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at Ben-Gurion International Airport before heading to Uganda”

But it also sees African countries as potential allies, particularly at the United Nations and other international bodies, where it is regularly condemned over its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Some African countries are keen to obtain Israeli agricultural and water technology, which the country has been promoting, say officials. Netanyahu’s trip follows years of efforts to improve ties.

After Uganda, Netanyahu– accompanied by 80 business chiefs representing some 50 Israeli companies — will travel on to Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

“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,” Netanyahu said in a statement, adding: “We are opening Africa to Israel again.”

The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state in the 1960s.

Following wars between Israel and its neighbors in 1967 and 1973, north African nations led by Egypt put pressure on sub-Saharan African states to cut ties with Israel, which many did.

Relations were not helped by Israel’s friendship with the apartheid regime in South Africa before it fell in 1994.

In an interview with Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper ahead of his visit, Netanyahu said his visit was an attempt to thaw relations.

“I’m very open about it, that’s true,” Netanyahu said, according to the paper.

Staff with agencies

Diplomatic Moment


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