AFP: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
Speaking in Entebbe, close to the site of the 1976 airport raid in which over 100 hostages were released, Netanyahu said the visit was “deeply moving” and symbolised 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.”
He said his visit signalled “dramatic changes in the relationship between Africa and Israel: Africa is a continent on the rise. After many decades I can say Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel.”
Israel is launching a $13-million aid package to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with African countries.
Israel would also provide African states with training in “domestic security” and health, an Israeli statement read.
Netanyahu said he would attend an “historic summit” with seven African leaders while in Uganda.
After Uganda, Netanyahu will travel on to Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state in the 1960s.
Following wars between Israel and its neighbours 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.
– Honouring his commando brother -Beyond diplomacy and trade, the trip has deep personal meaning for Netanyahu.
His brother Yonatan, known by his nickname ‘Yoni’, 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.
“I learned from my brother that you need two things to defeat the terrorists: clarity and courage,” Netanyahu said.
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.
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 defence expertise and products.
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.