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Netanyahu looks to changing Africa for new Israeli allies

Uhuru Kenyatta and Netanyahu during the Kenyan president's visit to Israel last month.
Uhuru Kenyatta and Netanyahu during the Kenyan president’s visit to Israel last month.

Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP

Four decades after his brother was killed during a rescue operation in Uganda, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embarking on an African mission of his own — but with very different aims.

Galvanised by a growing demand for Israeli security assistance and his government’s search for new allies, Netanyahu has put a fresh focus on improving ties with African nations.

Part of his push involves a planned visit to the continent around the 40th anniversary of the July 1976 hostage rescue operation that resulted in his brother’s death.

His itinerary has not yet been released, though Netanyahu said he has accepted an invitation to visit the continent from African leaders. Among them is the president of Kenya, with which Israel has strong ties, and a visit to that country seems likely.

“Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel,” Netanyahu recently told lawmakers and African ambassadors.

He noted his visit would be around the anniversary of the rescue operation, which he called “a very dramatic national experience” and “for me, obviously, one of great personal consequence.”

African nations that have survived colonialism and, more recently, the not-always-altruistic aims of Western nations and China certainly have reasons to be sceptical.

But economic progress in many African countries has begun to change the dynamics, while the threat of Islamic extremism in parts of the continent has left governments in search of advanced defence technology.

Certain countries would be especially keen to benefit from Israeli agricultural and water technology, said Na’eem Jeenah, head of the South Africa-based Afro-Middle East Centre research institute.

“The manner in which Israel has presented itself to these governments is in terms of huge opportunities,” Jeenah said, adding that he believed “many countries” would be interested.

Netanyahu’s planned trip, the first by an Israeli premier to Africa since Yitzhak Rabin visited Casablanca in 1994, is a culmination of years of rapprochement.

It is also an opportunity for Israel to further deepen business ties with the economically growing African states in fields in which it possesses expertise.

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