Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan – who is in Israel leading a pilgrimage – also found the time Monday to discuss counterterrorism operations and sign a bilateral air services agreement that will open new horizons for travelers between the two countries.

He was hosted by President Shimon Peres at a luncheon at his official residence on Monday.

He is the first sitting president of Nigeria to come to Israel, though he did visit previously as vice president.

In welcoming Jonathan, Peres said that Nigeria and Israel face a common menace and have been steadfast partners in combating radical religious terror groups such as al- Qaida, Hezbollah, and Boko Haram, each of which threatens regional stability in Western Africa and the Middle East and is spreading terror all over the world.

“With Nigeria at our side on the front against terror, we remain determined as ever to combat the spread of darkness,” said Peres.

“The future can be saved by making peace,” he added, underscoring that the future can be destroyed by giving it to terrorists.

It is for this reason that Israel wants to make peace with the Palestinians, he said.

“It is in Israel’s interests to live in peace with our neighbors.

Peace in itself may be the greatest benefit to the two of us. Terrorists all over the world are united in their attempt to destroy hope and unity. Those of us who seek peace and freedom must be united in order to defend our common front.”

Jonathan said that it would be remiss of him if he did not acknowledge Peres’s unrelenting efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nigeria welcomes the commitment to peace talks that both sides made in Washington in July, he continued, and the subsequent release by Israel of a number of Palestinian prisoners.

“We urge that the momentum for negotiations and eventual resolution of the crisis be sustained,” said Jonathan, who several times during his brief address spoke of what Peres has done to advance the peace process and of his role in the evolving history of Israel.

With regard to relations between the two countries, Jonathan said that they are not only excellent at the official level but have been marked by deep interpersonal affection.

Increasingly large numbers of Nigerians visit Israel annually, he said. Last year the number came to 30,000, and a significant rise is expected this year.

Some 50 Israeli companies are operating actively in Nigeria both directly and through joint ventures, said Jonathan, listing companies involved in agriculture, construction, communications, infrastructure, water management and resources, education and health.

Israel and newly independent Nigeria established diplomatic relations in 1960, which were severed by Nigeria in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War and renewed in September 1992.

Israel has maintained an embassy in Abuja since April 1993, and Nigeria has maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv for the same period of time.

During the initial relationship with Nigeria, Israel sent experts to help modernize agriculture, health services, and education and also accepted hundreds of Nigerian students for studies in various fields in Israel.

After the renewal of relations, Nigeria became an important, multimillion-dollar export market for Israeli military and surveillance equipment, for which Israel also provided the training.

Among the Israeli companies operating in Nigeria are Solel Boneh, which was one of the first Israeli companies to do business with and in Nigeria; Gadish; Ashtrom; Motorola (Israel); Tahal and other well-known firms.

In recent months, there has been a great deal of controversy in Nigeria over a $40 million deal that the Nigerian government concluded with Elbit for the supply of its Wise Intelligence Technology to monitor Nigeria’s Internet traffic. Many Nigerians have protested that use of the system is undemocratic and a violation of their civil rights.

But the government sees it as a necessary evil in combating cyber invasions.

The Nigerian president’s entourage includes eight governors, seven ministers, three members of the National Assembly and several church leaders.

Among the ministers are Minister of Foreign Affairs Viola Onwuliri; Federal Capital Territory Minister of State Olajumoke Akinjide; Minister of Information Labran Maku and Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah.

Also traveling with the group is Nigerian Chief Rabbi Israel Uzan, who together with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, accompanied Jonathan when he prayed at the Western Wall.

Jonathan and his entourage visited the most important Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth. The Nigerian president is leading 3,000 countrymen on his pilgrimage.

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