Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first trip to sub-Saharan Africa saw him launch a bid for closer ties with the continent on Sunday, Anadolu Agency reported.
Netanyahu was welcomed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the Entebbe International Airport, Also on his one-day visit to Uganda Netanyahu will attend a security-themed summit of regional leaders, including those from Kenya and Tanzania, said Don Wanyama, a spokesman for Uganda’s president.
“Africa is a continent on the rise; Israel looks forward to strengthening ties with Africa,” he said at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
“After many decades I can say unequivocally: Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. All our people will benefit greatly from our heroic partnership.”
Netanyahu’s visit — part of a four-country trip to the region that is the first by an Israeli premier in 30 years — is to boost Israeli trade and influence on the continent.
Tel Aviv recently launched a $13 million aid package to strengthen its ties with African countries and boost trade that currently accounts for just 2 percent of Israel’s foreign trade. It is also providing security and medical training for African states.
Speaking of the government’s decision to green-light the operation, Netanyahu said “The late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin deserves great appreciation for the leadership he has shown by making the fateful decision to go on the operation. Others who were central in approving the operation and executing it were defense minister Shimon Peres, IDF chief of staff Motta Gur, Air Force commander Benny Peled, the commander of the Infantry and Paratroopers Branch Dan Shomron, who was also commanded over the operation, and the Sayeret Matkal commander, my brother Yoni.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged Africa to take advantage of Israel’s fresh interest in the region. “Trade between Israel, Africa and third party markets is also potentially beneficial,” he said at Entebbe, highlighting investment, trade, tourism and technological cooperation.
Netanyahu’s visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe rescue in which Israeli commandos freed Israeli hostages. The prime minister’s brother Yonatan was killed in the operation and he arrived in Uganda with veterans of the mission.
“It’s a deeply moving day for me,” he said. “I have the privilege to return here with some of the brave soldiers and pilots.”
He added: “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 in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”
Museveni joined Netanyahu in condemning terrorism and said Palestinians and Israelis had the right to live side by side in the Middle East.
Before leaving for Africa, the prime minister said “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. All Africa is excited by this visit and I am very excited as well.”
The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between Israel and Africa in the 1960s as north African states led by Egypt put pressure on their southern neighbors to cut ties with Israel.