Benjamin Netanyahu is the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa in 30 years.
Halima Athumani - ENTEBBE, Uganda (AA) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first trip to sub-Saharan Africa saw him launch a bid for closer ties with the continent on Sunday.
“Africa is a continent on the rise; Israel looks forward to strengthening ties with Africa,” he said at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
“After many decades I can say unequivocally: Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. All our people will benefit greatly from our heroic partnership.”
Netanyahu’s visit -- part of a four-country trip to the region that is the first by an Israeli premier in 30 years -- is to boost Israeli trade and influence on the continent.
Tel Aviv recently launched a $13 million aid package to strengthen its ties with African countries and boost trade that currently accounts for just 2 percent of Israel’s foreign trade. It is also providing security and medical training for African states.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged Africa to take advantage of Israel’s fresh interest in the region. “Trade between Israel, Africa and third party markets is also potentially beneficial,” he said at Entebbe, highlighting investment, trade, tourism and technological cooperation.
Netanyahu’s visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe rescue in which Israeli commandos freed Israeli hostages. The prime minister’s brother Yonatan was killed in the operation and he arrived in Uganda with veterans of the mission.
“It’s a deeply moving day for me,” he said. “I have the privilege to return here with some of the brave soldiers and pilots.”
He added: “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 in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”
Museveni joined Netanyahu in condemning terrorism and said Palestinians and Israelis had the right to live side by side in the Middle East.
The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between Israel and Africa in the 1960s as north African states led by Egypt put pressure on their southern neighbors to cut ties with Israel.