Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was on hand Monday morning at the Knesset, for the launch of the new Knesset Caucus for Israel-Africa Relations.
The caucus was initiated by Likud MK Dr. Avraham Naguisa, who is himself an Ethiopian Jew, and has been working to build closer relationships between Israel and African states. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, numerous MKs and African ambassadors were also in attendance.
The Prime Minister spoke with the ambassadors, all of whom invited him to visit their countries, and hailed Israel's burgeoning ties with Africa.
"Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel. It's happening in a big way. It's happening now, but it should have happened a long time ago," Netanyahu said, referring to Israel's strong relationship with African states in its early years. "It's happening now because it's so clear that this is good for Africa and it's good for Israel. We face a multitude of challenges and opportunities."
"Both as Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister, we are making a deliberate, what I call African strategy, and I've received an invitation from the President of Kenya and from others to come and visit Africa," Netanyahu continued.
That visit would coincide with the 40th anniversary of Israel's famous "raid at Entebbe," in which Israeli commandos freed dozens of hostages held in Uganda in a daring raid. Cooperation from other, pro-Israel African states proved crucial to that operation, which was also significant for Netanyahu personally; his brother Yoni was killed in an exchange of gunfire during the raid.
"That was for us a very dramatic national experience. For me, obviously, one of great personal consequence, but we view that as an opportunity to give practical meaning to what I said before: Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel," Netanyahu declared.
The PM emphasized that an Israeli-African alliance was of crucial, and mutual, strategic interest, on topics ranging from the battle against Islamist terrorism to beating famine using revolutionary Israeli technology.
"Now we understand that we have these two great things before us: overcoming the dark forces of militant Islamic terrorism and seizing the opportunities of the future with technology and everything else we can bring…bring to bear," said Netanyahu.
He also expressed hope that African states would respond by opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. "What I'd like to see is the closeness of our relationship reflected also in the voting pattern of the African Union.
"I would like to eventually get to that point with the African Union, because you should vote for the interests of your own countries and you should vote for the interests of Africa. And I have no doubt whatsoever that today the interests of Africa and the interests of Israel cohere.
"They're almost identical, and in some respects and in many respects they are identical. So, I want to see that reflected in our bilateral relationship and also in our multilateral relationship."
The prime minister acknowledged that Israel's sometimes poor relationship with many African countries is also the result of a lack of effort on Jerusalem's part – something he is determined to change.
"As I said, Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel, and I intend to make good at it by literally coming to Africa. For too long you have come here and we have not come there, and we are going to change that.
"The greatest challenge we face together – the entire world faces – is the surge of militant Islamist extremism and the terrorism that it espouses. It threatens every land in Africa. In my opinion, it threatens the entire globe. Its nexus is in the Middle East, but it is rapidly spreading."
"It can be defeated. It can only be defeated if the nations that are attacked by it, make common cause. We understand the dangers of Al-Shabab," he continued, referring to Al Qaeda's Somali franchise which has launched deadly attacks throughout Africa. "We understand the dangers of the other militancies that threaten your countries in Africa, and we are prepared to work with you to defeat them. And it is possible to do so."
Many states, in both Africa and elsewhere, have come to realize just how valuable Israel's extensive know-how in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency can be for their own fights against Islamist terrorism, he added.
"I think that many countries from Africa, and may I say not only from Africa, are coming to Israel because of a demonstrated capacity to stand up to the forces of militant Islam, do battle with them, roll them back. And we are prepared to put our expertise at your disposal. That's the first reason that there has been such a marked change in the appreciation of Africa and Israel to one another.
"Israel is ready to help in every way – in agriculture, in health care, in water, in irrigation, in science, in technology, in investment, tourism, cyber.
"We consider you great friends. So we want to be able to cooperate with you in these two fields: fighting the forces of terror and seizing the opportunities of tomorrow. And they go hand in hand."