Netanyahu to seek stronger ties in Africa

Commander Yonatan 'Yoni' Netanyahu, the elder brother of Israel's prime minister, is remembered 40 years after a major international hostage rescue in Uganda.

JERUSALEM • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to make his first trip as premier to Africa and the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister since 1994.

Among the countries he will visit is Uganda, which today marks the 40th anniversary of a rescue mission in which Mr Netanyahu's brother Yonatan died as he led a commando raid in Entebbe to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans.

About 100 Israeli and Jewish hostages were freed in the raid but 20 Ugandan soldiers and seven hijackers were killed, along with several Ugandan civilians. Yonatan Netanyahu was the lone casualty among the Israeli assault team.

Mr Netanyahu has called the rescue operation "a very dramatic national experience" and "for me, obviously, one of great personal consequence".

While no official itinerary has been announced for the trip, Mr Netanyahu is also expected to visit Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

The Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal on June 25 to open offices of Israel's Agency for International Development in the four countries.

Mr Netanyahu told the Cabinet that his visit "is part of a major effort on our part to return to Africa in a big way".

"This is important for Israeli companies and for the state of Israel. It is also important for the countries of Africa," he said.

The trip comes at a time when Israel is launching a US$13 million (S$17.5 million) aid package to strengthen economic relations and cooperation with African countries. Israel will also provide African states with training in domestic security and health.

Mr Netanyahu's trip follows years of efforts to improve ties. The Arab-Israeli conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state in the 1960s.

Israel's dealings with Africa constitute only 2 per cent of its foreign trade, leaving much room for growth. Demand is rising for its defence expertise and products.

But Israel also sees African countries as potential allies, particularly at the United Nations and other world bodies.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Netanyahu to seek stronger ties in Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe