Benjamin Netanyahu seeks political and business support in Africa
TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Kenya as part of a four-country Africa trip, where he will be pursuing business deals and seeking support against international condemnation of his country’s policies toward the Palestinians.
The Israeli leader will meet his host, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and together they will hold a forum for Israeli and Kenyan business executives on Monday. He will also sit down with evangelical Christian supporters.
On the flight from his first stop, Uganda, Netanyahu laid out the diplomatic agenda for the trip, which is the first time an Israeli prime minister is visiting sub-Saharan Africa in 29 years: a quest for open political support from countries that have largely sided with Arab nations on resolutions critical of Israel in the UN and AU.
“It might take a decade, but we will change the automatic majority against Israel,” he said. “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.”
He said Tanzania’s foreign minister told him the country planned to open an embassy in Israel.
Israel has a long history of ties with Africa built on exports of arms and agricultural products, and imports of oil, diamonds and other natural resources.
Alliances unravelled after many African states severed ties to avoid entanglement in the Arab oil embargo following the 1973 Middle East war. Ties have begun to deepen again over the threat of radical Islam and Israel’s outreach beyond its traditional Western allies.
As he builds diplomatic bonds, Netanyahu is more immediately trying to drum up business for Israeli companies during a visit that also takes him to Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda. With a delegation of 70 business executives, the African excursion is part of Netanyahu’s effort to cultivate new growth markets while economies languish in the country’s biggest trade partners, the US and EU.
In Uganda, he joined leaders from the four countries on his itinerary, plus Zambia, South Sudan and Tanzania, to discuss how Israel could help African countries with technical expertise in areas such as antiterrorism, water management and high-yield farming.
Companies sending executives with Netanyahu include Elbit Systems, Israel’s biggest publicly traded defence contractor; Netafim, which makes irrigation systems; Magal Security Systems, a specialist in perimeter security at airports; Israel Chemicals, a fertiliser producer; and dronemaker Aeronautics.
Netanyahu began the trip with an emotional stop at Entebbe airport in Uganda, where his older brother died 40 years ago leading a daring Israeli hostage-rescue mission.
Netanyahu called for a united international front against terrorism at a ceremony marking the operation, in which dozens of Israeli commandos flew 4,000km under cover of night to free more than 100 Jewish and Israeli hostages from an Air France flight seized by Palestinian and German hijackers.
“The campaign against terrorism continues to this day,” he said. “We must stand against it as one spirit, in a united front, in the spirit of Entebbe.”