Netanyahu's trip aims to boost Israel-Africa ties

Jul 05, 2016, 12:20 PM EDT
Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu.
(Source: Utenriksdepartementet UD/flickr)

Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu is already seeing some positive results from his historic state visit to four countries in sub-Saharan Africa, seeking to improve ties. At a joint press conference on Tuesday in Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said “It would be foolhardy” for Kenya and Africa not to engage with Israel when its Arab neighbors do.

Indeed, as Netanyahu stated on the flight over, one of Netanyahu's long-term goals is to break the "automatic majority" against Israel in the U.N. by improving ties with African nations and thus enticing them to not support Arab resolutions condemning Israel. “It might take a decade,” he said, noting that this trip “will be seen as a turning point in Israel’s ability to reach a broad number of African countries…”

“Africa has no better friend than the state of Israel for the practical needs of security and development,” Netanyahu said in Nairobi. His meetings there centered on counter-terrorism, energy, and agriculture. These are pressing concerns for both countries, as well as for the next stops on the trip: Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Kenyatta concurred that the threat of extremism demands partnership with nations with a common position against it. Terrorists in Africa have repeatedly struck at Israeli interests, including an attack in 2002 when al-Qaeda detonated a car bomb at an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, killing 11 people, and shot at an Israeli jetliner there. Perhaps some intelligence-sharing or contracts for Israeli drones might be in the cards.

Building business connections is the other key aim of Netanyahu’s trip. Some 80 Israeli businesspeople from over 50 companies are traveling in the P.M.’s delegation, and they will participate in economic seminars in Kenya and Ethiopia along with their local counterparts.

Israel’s trade relationship with Africa is mostly one of importing raw materials, such as oil, diamonds, and other natural resources, and exporting value-added goods like agricultural products and weapons. But anemic growth in the E.U. -- one of Israel’s main trading partners – is pushing Jerusalem’s drive to find promising markets elsewhere. Partnerships tapping Israel’s technical expertise in water management and high-yield farming could work wonders for African economies, which are particularly vulnerable to more erratic and extreme weather caused by climate change. In Uganda Netanyahu met with the leaders of the four countries on his itinerary, plus Zambia, South Sudan and Tanzania, to discuss exactly that (along with counter-terrorism assistance).

According to Bloomberg, companies sending executives with Netanyahu include Elbit Systems Ltd., Israel’s biggest publicly traded defense contractor; Netafim Ltd., which makes irrigation systems; Magal Security Systems Ltd., a specialist in perimeter security at airports; Israel Chemicals Ltd., a fertilizer producer; and dronemaker Aeronautics Ltd. They all stand to benefit from better diplomatic ties, enabling deals and partnerships to be struck.

There's only an upside to this African outreach trip.