Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for increased security coordination with Ethiopia, in what will be seen as a bid to further entrench Israel’s influence in the African continent.
Netanyahu recently met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was on an official visit to Jerusalem. During a joint press conference, Netanyahu told Ahmed: “We know that the first prerequisite of any government, of any society is security. We are both being challenged. We’re being challenged by radical Islamic terrorists. They not only challenge us, they challenge the world.”
He continued: “We [Israel] believe that we can offer some experience, some shared experience that we have garnered because of our unfortunate need to defend ourselves,” referring to the prospect of security coordination between the two countries.
Netanyahu also hailed the close relations between Israel and Ethiopia, pointing to the presence of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, as well as recent incidents in which Ethiopia helped to return the bodies of an Israeli teen who went missing last month while hiking in the country’s Danakil Desert, and an Israeli who was killed in a Boeing plane crash in March.
For his part, Ahmed also met with the mother of Avera Mengistu, one of three Israelis who are being held in the besieged Gaza Strip. The Ethiopian prime minister also used his speech to send condolences to the family of Solomon Teka, whose killing by an Israeli policeman in July sparkedweeks of protests across Israel and accusations of institutionalised police racism.
Netanyahu’s bid to increase security cooperation with Ethiopia will be seen as evidence of his continued normalisation drive and Israel’s “pivot to Africa”.
In 2016, Netanyahu became Israel’s first head of government to visit Ethiopia, meeting with then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to discuss the possibility of increasing bilateral cooperation on water, agriculture, communications, tourism and education.
In May 2018, the Ethiopian-Israeli Business Forum was held in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to coincide with the conclusion of a visit to the country by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. A statement by the Ethiopian government quoted Rivlin as saying at the forum that “the partnership between the two countries will improve the existing cooperation between them in the areas of food security, public health, infrastructure and energy”.
Israel and Ethiopia have held formal diplomatic relations since 1992, after they were severed in the wake of the 1973 War.
In the past few years Netanyahu has also visited Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, heading Chad in in January of this year in order to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had been severed in 1972.
This drive to normalise relations with African states has many material benefits for Israel – often including lucrative arms deals, memorandums for economic cooperation and the use of airspace which will significantly shorten flight paths for commercial Israeli airlines – but has also been pursued for its propaganda value.
Speaking at a press conference before his departure to Chad, Netanyahu said that the visit was “part of the revolution we are doing in the Arab and Muslim world”, claiming that such an initiative “greatly worries, even greatly angers” Palestinians and the wider Arab world.
Netanyahu has been keen to emphasise these diplomatic successes, particularly in the run up to Israel’s general election which will take place later this month.