Netanyahu speaking in Eilat 311.
(photo credit: Avi Ohion/ GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans a trip to sub-Saharan Africa in January
that would signal Israel’s seriousness in developing new strategic alliances at
a time of regional tumult.
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Among the countries likely to be included on
the trip – the first to sub- Saharan Africa since Levi Eshkol visited six
African countries in 1966 – are Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, government sources
said. A trip to Uganda would have symbolic significance for Netanyahu, since his
brother, Yoni, was killed there in the 1976 Entebbe rescue raid.
to South Sudan has also been discussed, but largely dismissed because of
security concerns in that country, which only declared independence in
The leaders of Kenya and Uganda both visited Israel in November,
and both expressed interest in increasing cooperation in the face of Islamic
A senior government official said recently that Israel was
actively looking for friends and allies nearby to counterbalance dramatic
Islamic gains in the immediate neighborhood, and the loss of Turkey as a
Israel, the official said, was looking at three clusters
of states as allies.
The first is the eastern Mediterranean circle, made
up of Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. These countries, historic rivals of
Turkey, are concerned about Ankara’s widening reach and intentions, and this has
brought them into a much closer relationship with Israel than existed in the
The second cluster is a number of countries in Africa – Kenya,
Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Nigeria – whose concern about
Islamic terrorism in their own countries has led to growing political and
security cooperation with Israel.
The third cluster includes countries in
the region – as yet unnamed but believed to be in the Persian Gulf – who
government officials have said are in contact with Israel on issues regarding
Iran and the sweeping changes roiling the Middle East.
In a related
development, government sources said that Netanyahu is expected to travel to the
US in March to participate in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s
annual policy conference.
These trips are always coupled with visits to
the White House.
The sources said that despite speculation that President
Barack Obama might come to Israel before next November’s US presidential
elections, there has been no concrete indication that such a plan was in the
works. Nevertheless, the sources said such a visit could be arranged quickly if
the president decided he wanted to visit.
Obama has indicated for some
time that he would like to visit Israel, and some American Jewish leaders have
been pressing him to do so to win the trust of the Israeli public and shore up
support among American Jews.
There were numerous reports earlier this
year that he would come for President Shimon Peres’s annual conference held in
June, but those plans were foiled following the tension between Netanyahu and
Obama in May generated by Obama’s proposal for negotiations with the
Palestinians to start using the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps, as
One American Jewish leader close to the administration said
at the time that it was important for Obama to come to Israel before the end of
2011 to avoid the perception that if he came next year he would be pandering for
Jewish votes and financial support.
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