David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, determined in 1948 that in order to overcome the siege of Israel that was surrounded by Arab countries, Israel must develop relations with other countries in Africa. The former Prime Minister of Israel, Mrs. Golda Meir, developed a bold foreign policy of establishing strong relations with African countries in order to break the siege. Israel succeeded to establish close relations with Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and many other countries in East and West Africa. In many of them, Israel established embassies.
Israel’s Cooperation with African Countries
A major way of developing these relations was for Israel to establish strong cooperation with African countries mainly in areas of agriculture, water development, and defense. At that time, I worked in the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Israel, and I was in charge of developing agricultural relations between Israel and the developing countries. Hundreds of Israeli experts were sent to Africa and established excellent cooperation in these areas. The African States preferred to receive assistance from Israel instead of receiving it from the superpowers because they knew that in establishing relations with Israel they did not have to surrender to pressures from the major powers.
This policy was very successful and Israel established relations with almost 30 countries in Africa. The Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (the October War in 1973) made a change when many African countries severed relations with Israel because of pressure from the Arab countries and because they wanted to be leaders of the Non-Aligned block that was led by India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi. This was a major blow to Israel in particular to the policy of Mrs. Golda Meir. In this period, I served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Department for International Cooperation and was in charge of agricultural assistance to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The relations between African countries and Israel that were severed n 1973 were renewed gradually only about 30 years later.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Africa established a new era in the relations between Israel and the Continent. The Prime Minister participated in a major conference of African countries where he made a very important speech.
During his visit, Benjamin Netanyahu met four Heads of States: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and President Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia.
The visit took place in a very special date which commemorated forty years since the Entebbe Operation (July 4, 1976) when Israeli soldiers freed 98 Israeli citizens whose plane was hijacked by Palestinians and German terrorists and landed in the airport of Entebbe, Uganda. The commander of this commando unit was Mr. Yoni Netanyahu who was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brother. He was the only one killed during the operation.
Prime Minister Netanyahu received a very warm welcome by the Heads of States and the people of the countries he visited. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a speech to the Ethiopian parliament. He referred to the long-standing relation 3,000 years ago between King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. He also made mention of the successful integration of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel and requested from the President of Ethiopia his support to free Mr. Mengistu (of Ethiopian origin) who is now in prison in the hands of the Hamas. The Prime Minister of Israel participated in an economic forum in Addis Ababa. Eighty representatives were present from Israel and three hundred from Ethiopia. They have signed a special agreement of commercial and economic relations.
It should be indicated that in a few months Ethiopia will become a member of the United Nations Security Council which is very significant.
The subject of fighting terror was a central issue in the discussions. Israel and Ethiopia had reached agreements of cooperation on this subject.
The President of Kenya, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, emphasized that he anticipates cooperation with Israel in the areas of health, technology, agriculture, and water management. The cooperation between Israel and Kenya in the area of defense was essential and an important part of the agreement between the two countries. Kenya suffered a lot from terror in the last years.
The relations between Israel and Africa that were very good in the 1950’s and 1960’s deteriorated due to heavy pressure from the Arab countries. As a result, Israel also lost its observer standing in the Organization of African Unity. President Kenyatta emphasized that the present is a new era and that no pressure will influence Kenya to hurt its relations with Israel.
In Rwanda, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited a memorial commemorating the genocide that took place during the civil war about 20 years ago.
Tanzania, which is a very important country in Africa, decided to establish an embassy in Israel. The decision was influenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Africa.
China is the largest competitor of Israel in Africa. Millions of Chinese went to live in Africa and naturally they have a great influence there. The relation between Israel and China is very good and recently China established an embassy in Israel.
The difference between the development of relations between Africa and Israel today differs from the relations during the period of Golda Meir mainly because at the present there is peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that reduced the importance of Ethiopia for the security of Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit improved the standing of Israel in Africa. It should be indicated that the African countries expressed their desire to have peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. No one should expect that the new relations will equal the ones during the period of Mrs. Golda Meir. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit helped a great deal to cement the relations between Israel and Africa and open the opportunity to make these ties even stronger with the hope to reach the level of relation that took place in the time of Mrs. Golda Meir.