Liberman makes first visit to Africa by defense minister in decades

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks in Tel Aviv

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks in Tel Aviv.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman held an historic first visit of an Israeli defense minister in the Rwandan capital of Kigali during his four day visit to Africa.

“The visit to Rwanda has historical significance for relations between the two countries,” Liberman told Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “Rwanda and Israel share a desire for a better future for their citizens, cooperation, and partnerships that are being built.

“I am proud to be the first Israeli defense minister to visit your capital,” he continued, adding that “the relations between the two countries are stronger and deeper than ever.”

During his visit to Rwanda the defense minister met with with Kagame, his counterpart Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

He also toured the Rwandan parliament building, which was damaged during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, and signed the visitors’ book.

Liberman will also visit Tanzania and Zambia where he will hold a series of diplomatic meetings with heads of state and their defense ministers in those nations.

While it is Liberman’s first visit to Rwanda as defense minister, in 2009 he became the first Israeli foreign minister to visit the region in years. He made another trip to the region as foreign minister in 2014 during a 10 day strategic visit to Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya.

His visit to the region comes as Israelis and the international community have criticized Israel’s planned mass expulsion of tens of thousands of African migrants from the Jewish state to unnamed third countries in Africa, widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda.

Thousands of Africans, with the majority from Eritrea and Sudan, illegally crossed into Israel via Egypt between 2006-2012 before Israel erected its security fence along the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice temporarily suspended the government plan to deport unmarried male migrants, which will offer each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket. Those who refuse to leave will face jail time.  

According to Hebrew press Liberman’s visit also comes after an Israeli security mission went to Rwanda to promote weapons and military technology following the signing of the expulsion deal between Jerusalem and the third unnamed countries.

The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv reported that in late February that a delegation from the Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate (SIBAT) as well as representatives from several Israeli defense industry companies such as Elbit, IAI, IMI and others, visited Rwanda.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI’s) Arms Transfers database, Israel has recently supplied Rwanda ATMOS 2000 155 mm self-propelled howitzers from Israel’s Soltam. Rwanda’s army is also equipped with Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles.

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