Liberman makes first visit to Africa by defense minister in decades

Liberman's visit amid critiscm of Israel's planned forced deportation of thousands of illegal African migrants.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks in Tel Aviv (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks in Tel Aviv
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made a historic visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali during his four-day visit to Africa.
“The visit to Rwanda has historical significance for relations between the two countries,” Liberman told Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Monday. “Rwanda and Israel share a desire for a better future for their citizens, cooperation, and partnerships that are being built.
“I am proud to be the first Israeli defense minister to visit your capital,” he continued, adding that “the relations between the two countries are stronger and deeper than ever.”
During his visit to Rwanda the defense minister met with Kagame, Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
He also toured the building of the Rwandan parliament, which was damaged during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, and signed the visitors’ book.
Liberman will also be visiting Tanzania and Zambia where he will meet with their heads of state and defense ministers.
While it is Liberman’s first visit to Rwanda as defense minister, in 2009 he became the first Israeli foreign minister to visit the region in years. He made another trip as foreign minister to the region in 2014, during a 10-day strategic visit to Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya.
His current tour comes as Israelis and the international community have criticized the government’s planned deportation of tens of thousands of African migrants to unnamed third countries in Africa, widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda.
Thousands of Africans, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, illegally entered Israel via Egypt in 2006-2012 before Israel erected a new security fence along the Sinai border.
Last week, the High Court of Justice suspended the government plan to deport unmarried adult male migrants, offering each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket. Those who refuse to leave will face jail time.
Liberman’s visit also comes after an Israeli security mission went to Rwanda to promote weapons and military technology following the signing of the deportation deal between Jerusalem and the unnamed third countries.
The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv reported that in late February, a delegation from the Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate as well as representatives from several Israeli defense industry companies such as Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and IMI Systems visited Rwanda.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers database, Israel recently supplied Rwanda ATMOS 2000 155 mm self-propelled howitzers from Soltam Systems. Rwanda’s army is also equipped with Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles.