PM considering historic trip to Africa

Despite rumors of pre-election visit by Obama, no concrete indication of any impending trip.

Netanyahu speaking in Eilat 311 (photo credit: Avi Ohion/ GPO)
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.
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.
RELATED:PM postpones cabinet discussion of NGO billA visit to South Sudan has also been discussed, but largely dismissed because of security concerns in that country, which only declared independence in July.
The leaders of Kenya and Uganda both visited Israel in November, and both expressed interest in increasing cooperation in the face of Islamic terrorism.
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 strategic ally.
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 past.
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 a baseline.
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.