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Netanyahu announce the first visit to Africa

Netanyahu announce that he will pay the first visit to Africa by an Israeli prime minister .

The trip, which will include stops in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and possibly another country, is aimed at showing the importance Israel attaches to the continent. This also was manifested in February when a pro-Africa parliamentary lobby was established in the Knesset.

The importance of Africa for Israel is in three main areas. The first is political-diplomatic and the African nations are seen as a critical voting bloc that could prevent anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and other international forums. Although the African nations usually vote in a bloc, following the decisions of the African Union, there have been recent instances of schisms within the bloc.

North Africa, in the eyes of the Foreign Ministry, is a different region ‒ part of the Middle East. Currently Israel has 10 permanent diplomatic missions in Africa : South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Its other representatives in Africa are non-resident.

African nations have 15 diplomatic missions in Israel. None of the African nations represented in Israel has a military attach.

The second area is economic. Africa is considered by Israel, as it is by the rest of the world, to be a potentially huge export market. So far Israel has barely tapped this emerging market. Two-way trade between Israel and the continent of Africa is a mere $1 billion annually, two-thirds of which comes from trade between Israel and South Africa, mainly in diamonds.

Africa’s third area of importance to Israel is strategic and military, but the extent here is very small. Israel is among the top 10 arms exporters in the world and soon-to-be-released figures are expected to show that Israel signed $5 billion of arms deals in 2015.

Of that amount, however, barely 3 percent – $135 million – was with African countries.

One might have expected that Israel would be deeply involved in assisting the Nigerian military in its fight against Boko Haram, the local version of Islamic State, but there have been no deals between the two countries in the last two years. In fact, the only indirect Israeli assistance in the anti- terrorism battle is that the highly praised Cameroon forces, which are taking part in the war against Boko Haram, were trained in the past by Israeli military advisers, and their basic gear is Israeli-made.

The threat of terrorism, which is of concern to more and more African nations – including Rwanda, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Ghana – has led to interest in Israeli counterterrorism tactics and intelligence support.

In February, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Israel and talked openly about the need to coordinate the international struggle against terrorism, Israel included.

He even suggested that in the future he might ask Israel to upgrade his air force.

In the military realm, there has been a major shift. Whereas in the past, Israeli arms sales to Africa, even if marginal, mainly focused on light weapons, firearms, mortar shells and armored vehicles, nowadays African nations are asking for more sophisticated equipment, such as control and command centers, and intelligence capabilities.

The Israeli security interest in Africa is also due to Iranian efforts to make inroads on the continent, as well as the presence of the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shi’ite organization Hezbollah in various parts of Africa, particularly on the western coast.

Diamonds and other important raw materials also attract Israelis to the continent, but the search for commodities has sometimes contributed to the negative image of the “ugly Israeli” operating in Africa. These are Israeli tycoons with international outreach who go to Africa to explore and exploit its minerals and are no different from other international tycoons who navigate their way ‒ with a little help from kickbacks ‒ to obtain lucrative concessions and contracts.

Sometimes they get what they want in return for helping the local rulers by training and equipping their bodyguards and providing them with bugging systems to spy on their opponents.

Russian-born tycoon Arkady Gaydamak, a sometime Israeli, who is now in a French jail for tax evasion, operated in Angola, where France accused him of selling weapons to the regime and bribing top officials.

Israeli real estate and diamond magnate Lev Leviev also was very close to the Angolan president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and his family, and received major diamond concessions in the country In Congo (formerly Zaire), Israeli Dan Gertler became a good friend of President Joseph Kabila and is considered one of the most important businessmen mining diamonds, cobalt and other raw minerals. Another prominent Israeli – who gave up his Israeli passport for tax reasons ‒ is diamond merchant Benny Steinmetz. A decade ago he obtained an ore concession in Guinea only to find himself now being investigated by France, the UK, US and Switzerland on suspicion of bribery in Guinea.

While some of these individuals portray Israel in a dark light, there are numerous examples of Israelis who work in Africa with good intentions rooted in idealism.

Each year, Israel trains some 1,000 African students in a range of disciplines, in particular in modern agricultural methods, medicine and communications.

In the 1960s, Israel was deeply involved in the African continent, sending agricultural experts, medical assistance and military advisers to the emerging African democracies.

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