“Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel. It's happening in a big way,” These are words of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of the Israeli parliament's caucus for Israel-Africa relations in February.
Five months down the line and the Israeli premier has embarked on a four-day visit to four East African countries- Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia — as one of his strategies to once again gain a footing in the continent.
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa in 30 years. The visit also comes forty years since the 1976 Israel rescue operation, led by Yonatan Netanyahu, the elder brother of the Israeli leader, who was shot dead in the operation at the Entebbe airport terminal.
While he took some time to mark the anniversary of the Israeli rescue mission, at the Ugandan airport, situated by the shore of Lake Victoria, his visit is also expected to grow Israel-Africa partnerships.
“All of our peoples will benefit greatly from our growing partnership.” He reiterated his words: “after many decades, I can say unequivocally Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel.”
After a rather stagnating partnership, Israel is seeking new trading partners on his African tour. Last month Netanyahu said he would seek government approval for a $13 million plan to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with African countries.
How Africa will benefit:a) Fighting terrorism
During Africa’s formative years, Israel played a prominent role in assisting the newly formed nations in the 1960s. However, following the rise of Arab influence on the continent, Africa-Israel relations crumbled down as Arabic countries pressured Africa to limit or cut ties with Israel in exchange for aid. At this time, the relations with Israel also suffered due to the close ties that the country had with South Africa’s apartheid government.
That said, Israel is known for its expertise in security matters. As such, the relations will be of benefit to a continent that is struggling with the terrorist attacks from Boko Haram in Nigeria to al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants in Somalia. Israel is enthusiastic in aiding affected countries in defeating the jihadists.
“Any victory of radical Islam in any part of Africa immediately impacts us,” said Avi Granot, the former head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Africa division. “The more defeats (militants) face, whether it is in Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia or Chad, then it's a victory also for the Middle East.”
Following the 2013 al-Shabab attack on a Nairobi mall, Israel deployed a team of security experts to help in dealing with the menace.
While Israel’s military exports to Africa are limited, the country hosts vast security training and assistance, and according to Granot, Israel could use its expertise in fighting militants to continue to offer training on terror prevention. Additionally, Israeli defense experts provide intelligence sharing to its close allies, with several African countries and Israel's defense ministry giving clearance for private Israel security firms to operate in some nations.b) Widen the scope of agriculture
Earlier in the year, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was taken aback by agricultural innovations driving Israeli’s economy.
“A desert can truly be a paradise if we are committed. This place is drier than any part of Kenya but look at what they produce,” President Kenyatta who was taken on a tour of organic tomato farms and a section of the Kibbutz for dairy cows, said.
Israel has only 20 percent arable land. Despite that, the small state of 8 million people has been taking the lead in exports of fresh produce and boasts advanced agricultural technologies which it also exports to Africa and some other parts of the world.
Arye Oded a former Israeli diplomat and expert on Africa sees Israeli’s move to strengthen its ties with the region as a way to persuade African states to side with it at the UN against Palestine.
“We're talking about some 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa who vote in one bloc at the UN,” 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 UN”
Image credit: Alliance/DPA/A. Cohen