Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Sunday with West African leaders in Liberia for discussions on boosting ties.
After being greeted by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf upon arriving in the capital Monrovia, Netanyahu met with Marcel Alain de Souza, the president of the Economic Community of West African States, to speak about how to further the relationship between Israel and the bloc, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Netanyahu then met with Gambian President Adama Barrow, with whom he discussed bilateral ties. He also offered to send Israeli assistance to the country to help with its development.
During his meetings, Netanyahu also stressed that the improving relations between those nations with Israel should be reflected into support for the Jewish state at international bodies such as the United Nations.
Prior to leaving for Liberia, Netanyahu said he would use his trip to the ECOWAS summit to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other international forums.
“The purpose of this trip is to dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies,” he told journalists Saturday evening ahead of the flight.
Netanyahu said he hoped to use his attendance at the annual conference of the ECOWAS to build off his July 2016 visit to the East African nations of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which marked the first time in decades an Israeli premier had traveled to Africa.
“Israel is returning to Africa in a big way,” the prime minister said Saturday, reiterating a message he repeated throughout his previous trip to the continent.
Netanyahu noted that the trip marks the first time a non-African leader will speak at ECOWAS — an organization that includes 15 nations with a combined population of some 320 million — which he called a “badge of honor for the State of Israel.”
On Friday, however, Morocco’s foreign ministry said that Mohamed VI had scrapped his plans to attend the meeting in light of Netanyahu’s attendance, saying the king “wishes his first visit to a ECOWAS summit not take place in a context of tension and controversy.”
Last July, de Souza became the first leader of the organization to visit Israel. He met with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin to discuss economic cooperation and regional security issues.
In December, Jerusalem hosted seven ministers and many other top officials from over a dozen Western African countries at an agricultural conference in Israel, which was co-sponsored by ECOWAS and Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation.
Starting in early 2016, Netanyahu made strengthening ties with Africa one of his main foreign policy goals. Besides seeking new markets for Israeli agriculture, high-tech and security know-how, the prime minister was also keen to improve African nations’ voting record on Israel-related matters in international forums such as the United Nations Security Council or UNESCO.
“In seizing the future, Israel is coming back to Africa in more than a verbal way,” he said in February.
Netanyahu is also scheduled to attend an Africa-Israel summit in Togo in October, where the prime minister is expected to meet with the leaders of 25 African countries to discuss cooperation in high-tech, security and development.
AFP contributed to this report.