His itinerary included Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia and he took part in a summit with the leaders of these countries as well as South Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania. The prime minister took with him 80 businesspeople, representing 50 Israeli companies working in Africa and launching a programme for economic co-operation with sub-Saharan African countries.
But while he was singing the praises of Israeli renewable energy and water purification technology, there were other matters on the agenda. Israel has come a long way from the mid-1970s, when many African countries broke off relations in solidarity with Arab states after the war of 1973. These days, though, African governments facing Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other extremist movements in their territory are eager for Israeli security assistance.
Israel is also trying to confront Iranian attempts to gain influence in the region and to prevent the smuggling of arms from Iran to Hizbullah and Hamas via the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa. “Iran is trying to get in to Africa all the time” says a senior Israeli diplomat. “It is inviting African leaders to Tehran and we don’t want to see Iran gaining a foothold there.”
For Mr Netanyahu, the trip was also a personal pilgrimage, as the visit was scheduled to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Israeli operation to release hostages from a hijacked Air France plane held by Palestinian terrorists at Uganda’s Entebbe airport. His older brother, Yonatan, who led the commandos breaking in to the terminal building, was killed in the raid. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Netanyahu spurred his brother’s entry into public life; the prime minister and his family have been accused by some of “hijacking” the memory of the daring operation to glorify their fallen son and boost Mr Netanyahu’s political career.
The prime minister was in Africa at a time of great uncertainty at home. After a short lull, violent Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens both within Israel and in the West Bank have resumed, while his senior ministers have been bickering over the correct response. Still, Mr Netanyahu is feeling confident on the world stage. He feels under less pressure to make concessions to Palestinians in the twilight months of Barack Obama’s administration and amid the turmoil in the European Union, not least the British referendum to leave the union.
Mr Netanyahu has moved closer to Russia of late; he has had four meetings with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, over the last ten months. He has also secured new understandings with regional and Asian powers.
Last week, Israel restored diplomatic relations with Turkey, while reassuring Ankara’s regional rivals, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, that this didn’t mean any change in their strategic ties with the Jewish state. A trip by Mr Netanyahu to India, the main customer for Israeli arms, and a visit to Israel by its prime minister, Narendra Modi, are both in the offing. Mr Netanyahu first came to power 20 years ago and recently marked a total of ten years in office; it is clear that he now sees himself as a global statesman.