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Arms, diplomacy, religion

By Independent team

Museveni’s trip to Israel excites media

Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, which is considered to be very influential among government leaders, ran a headline:  “Ugandan President Museveni has quietly met with the head of Mossad”, it was reported that the visit on Nov.12 to 14 was prepared at the last moment.

It was scheduled for December but Museveni asked at the last minute that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs advance the dates.

Arrived in a private jet, and was met by Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Museveni also met Udi Margalit and Michael Ende, two leaders of the firm Mini-Refineries Enterprises Ltd, and Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel. These meetings are not unrelated to the fact that since the second quarter of 2011, Uganda began oil exploration in the Lake Albert and would have proven reserves of over 1.5 billion barrels.


It was reported that, however, few people are aware of Museveni’s meeting with Tamir Pardo, the head of Mossad.

Museveni reportedly requested that the Israeli intelligence cooperate with Kampala and transmit the information they have on Islamist networks in East Africa East and Central Africa.

Terrorism

According to his Israeli interlocutors, President Museveni expressed concern about the rise of radical Islam in Africa. But he especially expressed concern about the future of Libya. He agreed with Israel, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was certainly megalomaniac, but he was a secular leader, but now Libya may fall into the hands of Islamists and al-Qaeda network.

President Museveni also informed his interlocutors that Uganda would benefit from the expertise and technologies Israel to combat terrorism, even offering to send experts to Israel soon and Ugandan officials to discuss the purchase services and equipment for internal security.

Under another headline, “Ugandan president in Israel for arms shopping” it was reported that Museveni was scheduled to tourIsrael’s defense industries, including Israel Aircraft Industries and its various subsidiaries and the Soltam plant in Yokneam, which makes mortars.

Museveni will also go for a sail on one of the navy’s Super-Dvora ships, attend an air show of pilotless drones and observe a firing exhibition at an Israel Defense Forces base.

The president, it was reported, is interested in purchasing pilotless drones, ships, mortars and radar systems. He also wants to arrange for more of his nation’s planes to be upgraded.

Six years ago, Uganda signed a $25 million contract with IAI for the upgrading of 12 MiG-21 planes, but a defense source said the contract is being implemented very slowly. According to an official Ugandan publication, Ugandan pilots trained here in May 2002.

Museveni’s interest in buying arms stems from two facts. First, Uganda is located at a key juncture between northern and central Africa, with the result that it has been involved in almost every tribal or ethnic conflict in the region in recent years, including those in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan.

In addition, ever since Museveni took power in 1986, the government has been embroiled in a bloody civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

But despite the emphasis on defense ties, Museveni’s visit also has a diplomatic component.

“Relations between the two states have been gradually improving,” said Yaacov Amitai, Israel’s non-resident ambassador to Uganda, who is accompanying Museveni on his visit.

Amitai said that bilateral trade between the two countries is on the rise: Israeli exports to Uganda, mainly agricultural equipment, currently total some US$4 million a year, and two Israeli companies, Solel Boneh and Tahal, recently won major contracts to pave roads there. Israeli imports from Uganda – of which coffee is a major component – total about $1 million a year.

In addition, the Foreign Ministry stepped up its technical aid to Uganda last year: Some 30 Ugandans recently completed a course in agricultural management here, and a delegation of doctors and nurses will soon fly to Kampala to teach a course on preparing for medical emergencies.

Religion

The paper reported that the fact that Museveni is a devout Christian has helped to strengthen his feelings toward Israel. In 1999, Museveni made a private pilgrimage to Bethlehem. This time as well, he planned to visit various Christian pilgrimage sites, including the Jordan River.

Museveni is considered one of the most important African leaders, as well one of the longest-serving. Though he was elected to his post, he has been accused of having manipulated the elections. He has also been harshly criticised both at home and abroad for clamping down on freedom of the press, including by arresting journalists.

Museveni does not appear overly fond of the media: He agreed to meet with Israeli journalists only under pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, changed the time of the meeting repeatedly on short notice, cut the meeting short when it finally did occur, and cancelled a scheduled interview with Ha’aretz 15 minutes before it was to take place.

Israel and Uganda established diplomatic relations in the early 1960s, and Israel viewed the country one of the keys to advancing its interests in Africa.

Israeli companies built Uganda’s airport and many of its roads, and Israeli army, police and Shin Bet instructors have helped train their Ugandan counterparts. Even dictator Idi Amin underwent paratrooper training in Israel – before severing ties with Jerusalem in 1972.

Bilateral relations reached a low point in 1976, when Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France plane to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport and Israel sent a commando force into the country to seize the airport and rescue the hostages.

The fixer

Under another headline, “What are the former Mossad chief’s business ties to Uganda?” Ha’aretz said Rafi Eitan, now a businessman establishing business operations in Africa, helped organise President Yoweri Museveni’s latest state visit to Jerusalem.

It said the former Israel Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan attended official meetings that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres held in Jerusalem with Museveni on Sunday Nov. 13, according to a senior Israeli official.

Eitan, now a businessman, has been trying to establish business operations in Uganda and to set up a cattle ranch in the country.

This is the second visit to Israel for Museveni.

In 2003, Museveni met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and with Netanyahu, who was then foreign minister, mainly to discuss Israeli arms sales to Uganda.

About a month ago, during efforts to thwart the Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations, Netanyahu spoke with the Ugandan president and invited him to visit Israel. According to the senior Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous, the meeting focused more on economic aid to Uganda than on arms sales.

The source said Eitan’s involvement in the visit came as a surprise to several government officials. He said the Foreign Ministry staffers who came to the airport to welcome Museveni were surprised to see Eitan waiting on the tarmac to shake the Ugandan president’s hand.

“The president of Uganda arrived in a private plane and the welcome was in an area of the airport reserved for VIPs. It is unclear how Rafi Eitan even got a permit to get in there,” the source said.

Eitan went on to take part in meetings among Netanyahu, Peres and Museveni. “No Israeli official invited Eitan to the airport, and he also invited himself to the meetings with Netanyahu and Peres and sat in the room,” the official said.

Eitan, 85, held several government positions in the course of his career. He served in the Palmach, the elite strike force of the pre-state, underground Haganah, the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces.

He went on to become director of operations in the Mossad, Israel’s espionage agency, and participated in the capture of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Eitan also served as head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations, the agency that handled the Jewish-American Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. From 2006 to 2009 he was pensioner affairs minister in the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“I have been a friend of the Ugandan president for many years and I helped him [with the visit to Israel]. I know a few people in the wider world and sometimes I go with them to see the prime minister and the president,” Eitan told Haaretz.

Eitan initially said Museveni had invited him to the meeting with Netanyahu and Peres, but afterward said he had phoned the prime minister and president and asked to join the meetings. “Shimon Peres and I have been friends for many years. I called and told him I was a friend of the Ugandan president, and Peres told me to come to the meeting,” Eitan said.

Eitan returned to the world of business two years ago and became interested in various business ventures in Africa, mainly in Uganda. “I want to start farming projects, like a cattle ranch, but it has not yet started. In any case, agricultural projects do not depend on meetings with prime ministers,” Eitan told Haaretz.

In a response, the President’s Residence in Jerusalem said Eitan had asked to attend Peres’ meeting with Museveni and that President’s Residence Director General Efrat Duvdevani had consulted with the Foreign Ministry.

“The Foreign Ministry said Eitan’s participation in the meeting was up to us,” the President’s Residence said. “We decided to grant the request because Eitan is a former minister and former senior Mossad official and has historical relations with Uganda and a personal relationship with the guest. In any case Eitan’s business in Uganda did not come up in the meeting.”

The Prime Minister’s Bureau declined to comment on the issue.

Raila Odinga

Under the headline: “Raila bumps into Museveni in Israel”, the Nairobi Star reported that Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Museveni were surprised to bump into each other in Jerusalem.

It said it took the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, Gil Haskel, who is also accredited to Uganda, to inform both that the other leader was visiting. “Ambassador Haskel even suggested holding an unplanned ‘East African Summit’ in the lobby of the the prestigious King David Hotel in Jerusalem,” said an embassy official.

Both leaders agreed to divert from strict protocol to the ambassador’s spontaneous initiative. The King David hotel, where they stayed in Jerusalem, immediately mobilised and managed to prepare an improvised formal conference room in the hotel lobby, which included the flags of both nations.

The embassy said Raila and Museveni had a “friendly meeting” which lasted for about one hour. “They discussed pressing East African matters as well as issues of interest on the bilateral agenda of Kenya and Uganda. Odinga and Museveni also discussed their experiences while visiting the Holy Land,” ambassador Haskel said after the meeting. As the meeting wrapped up, Raila referred to the meeting as the “Summit of the Holy Land”, said an official who was present.

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