ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week spoke on the phone with the leader of a Muslim nation in Africa with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, he revealed Thursday.
Netanyahu did not indicate who the leader was but said they had agreed to meet in the near future.
The conversation between Netanyahu and the African-Muslim leader took place Monday on the sidelines of an Israeli-African summit in Uganda, which was attended by leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters accompanying him on his four-day trip to Eastern Africa. One of the leaders present at the summit made the connection between Netanyahu and the Arab-African leader, he said.
“There are a lot these contacts. He is not the only Muslim leader who contacted us in recent years,” the prime minister said. “The world is changing.”
On security related issues, “there is not one country in Africa that doesn’t want to cooperate with Israel,” Netanyahu said. African leaders need to defend their countries from the threat of Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and other terrorists groups, and are looking to Israel for help in this area, he added.
“That’s new. Many African leaders are telling other African nations: The world is changing, it’s time that also your official relationship with Israel changes.”
As reported by The Times of Israel earlier this week, Netanyahu recently met with the president of Somalia, Hassan Shekh Mohamud, in the first high-level contact between the two countries. Somalia, a mostly Sunni Muslim country and a member of the Arab League, has never recognized the State of Israel.
Responding to The Times of Israel’s report, the government in Mogadishu put out a statement saying it “seeks to establish meaningful relations with existing and new allies with an objective of securing Somalia’s future progress and prosperity,” but denied a meeting between Mohamud and Netanyahu took place.
Netanyahu on Tuesday neither confirmed nor denied having met Mohamud. Responding to a question from The Times of Israel during a briefing with reporters, he replied: “I don’t want to answer your specific question. I can merely say that we have lot of contacts with countries that we don’t have formal relations with. A lot of contacts.”
On Thursday, during a joint press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Netanyahu said he was delighted that “the cooperation that we have with so many other African countries is congealing and consolidating for a recognition that all African countries, all of them without exception, can benefit from a renewed cooperation with Israel.”
Later in the day, Netanyahu addressed both chambers of the Ethiopian parliament, hailing bilateral ties and declaring his intention to visit more African countries in the near future.
“I am proud to announce that Israel is coming back to Africa in a big way,” he said, reiterating the central message of this week’s four-day tour to Africa. “I want to see every African country represented with an embassy in Israel.”
Ending his 12-minute speech, Netanyahu said: “Ethiopia is on the rise. Africa is one rise. Our friendship will soar to new heights. May God bless Ethiopia.” The parliamentarians responded with a standing ovation.
Concluding his four-country trip, Netanyahu visited Ethiopia’s national museum and was hosted for a state dinner in the presence of the country’s prime minister and senior ministers.
He will make his way back to Israel early Friday morning.