FM hopes to open "new directions" for Israel; Gaddafi calls to close Israeli embassies in Africa.
By HERB KEINON
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has taken himself out of the current diplomatic mix with the US and the Palestinians and wants the Foreign Ministry to focus on areas it has long given low priority, will embark today on a nine-day, five-country tour of Africa.
This will be the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister to sub-Saharan Africa, excluding Ethiopia, since David Levy went to Nigeria in 1991. An Israeli prime minister has not visited sub-Saharan Africa since Yitzhak Shamir went in 1988.
Lieberman, who recently returned from a trip to South America, where he was the first Israeli foreign minister to visit in 22 years, will visit Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
Lieberman said the visit was part of his plan to open "new directions" for Israeli diplomacy.
"Israel has been absent for many years from entire regions of the world, and during my visit to South America I felt the great importance that the host countries attributed to these visits, as well as the visit's significant contribution to bilateral relations," he said in a statement.
Likewise, he said, the visit to Africa would improve Israel's standing in the international forums in which African nations have a significant presence.
One senior Foreign Ministry official noted that since Lieberman has taken himself and the Foreign Ministry out of the diplomatic process currently taking place with the US and the Palestinians, he needs to find other venues on which to focus his and the ministry's energies. At the same time the official admitted that Israel had pretty much ignored Africa over the last three decades.
Lieberman's visit comes just two days after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said Israel was causing all of Africa's woes.
According to an AFP report, Gaddafi - speaking to some 30 African leaders gathered at a special African Union summit in Tripoli Monday to mark 40 years of his rule - said Israel was "behind all of Africa's conflicts." He demanded the closure of all Israeli embassies across Africa, describing Israel as a "gang" and saying it used "the protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts."
Foreign Ministry spokesmen Yigal Palmor responded by saying Gaddafi was a "clown" whose declarations "no one in the world took seriously. I am sure no one was impressed by his bullying," he said.
At the same time, however, Libya does exert its influence in part of Africa, and the lack of ties with nearby Mali, Niger and Chad is attributed in Israel to Gaddafi's influence. Likewise the Libyan leader has been able to pressure a number of African states, according to Israeli officials, to vote in favor of anti-Israeli resolutions in various international bodies.
Lieberman said one of the issues he will raise in his talks with African leaders will be Teheran's efforts to make inroads into the continent, efforts that - with the exception of Sudan - Israeli officials say have not yet proven overly successful.
Lieberman will be accompanied by 20 businessmen in the fields of energy, agriculture, water, communications and military industries, as well as senior officials from the Finance Ministry, Defense Ministry and National Security Council.
The trip will begin in Ethiopia and end in Uganda, where the foreign minister will take part in a memorial ceremony for those killed during Israel's raid on Entebbe in 1976.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's brother Yonatan, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed during the operation that freed some 105 hostages from a hijacked Air France plane. A fourth hostage, 75-year-old Dora Bloch, was killed by then Ugandan president Idi Amin's soldiers in a nearby hospital.
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