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Africa's oil wealth boosts arms sales

April 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM   |   Comments

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 30 (UPI) -- Kenya, which faces being dragged into the war in neighboring Somalia, is seeking to buy arms from Israel in hopes of securing the support of the Jewish state's military expertise in countering the jihadist threat.

That fits in neatly with Israel's own efforts to boost military sales in strife-torn Africa, particularly among the energy-rich states such as Nigeria and Angola.

Connecticut-based Forecast International, which provides market intelligence on the defense and aerospace sectors, noted in a December analysis that these days Africa "is host to a dynamic arms market polarized by broad economic disparities and myriad security challenges.

"Burgeoning energy economies have fueled significant market growth in recent years but a new wave of economic challenges threatens to slow this expansion," Forecast International said.

Still, Forecast International said that the northern tier of African states, particularly Algeria, have eclipsed South Africa as "the region's most active and thus most lucrative, arms market."

African states spent around $18 billion on defense in 2008, a 7.7 percent increase over 2007, the consultancy said.

However, the North African states, overwhelmingly Muslim and opposed to Israel, are, of course, not open to the Jewish state. It is focusing largely on the sub-Saharan states like Angola and Nigeria, the region's leading oil producers, as customers for its high-tech defense industry.

In September, Israel's hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman toured nine African states accompanied by a large entourage of arms dealers and defense industry executives from companies such as the flagship Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel Military Industries, Elbit Systems, Israel Shipyards and others.

There was also a delegation from Sibat, the Defense Ministry department that oversees Israel arms sales and military assistance and Israel's intelligence community, including the Mossad, the foreign intelligence service that has long operated in Africa.

No arms deals were signed during the tour, which included Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda. But Israeli Foreign Ministry officials estimated Africa's business potential at $1 billion. They noted some countries, such as Nigeria, were considered important markets for Israeli arms.

The Kenyans have given no public indication of what kind of weapons systems they want from Israel but they are likely to include counterinsurgency systems and unmanned aerial vehicles for border surveillance.

Israeli drones have been sold to Angola, the Ivory Coast and other countries to protect oil installations and other facilities.

Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti met his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Aharonovich, in Jerusalem Feb. 11 and, according to the Israeli media, told him, "The jihad is taking over Somalia and threatening to take over Kenya and all of Africa."

Israel's interest in Kenya fits in with wider concerns that the Jewish state has with the Horn of Africa in general, given growing Iranian interest in shipping arms to the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and to Hezbollah in Lebanon via the Red Sea.

The Israelis are also keen on developing intelligence links with Eritrea, which lies on the southwestern coast of the Red Sea, from where the Israelis could keep tabs on al-Qaida in Yemen across the Red Sea.

Eritrea's rival, Ethiopia, with which Israel has long had intelligence links, also is seen as a potential market for weapons.

But Israel is also interested in rebuilding widespread contacts it had across Africa, built up in the 1950s and '60s to bolster its diplomatic support.

In recent years, Iran has been making serious inroads into Africa to garner support for its contentious nuclear program.

In 2008-09, Iranian diplomats and military officers dispatched by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were all over the continent "signing a bewildering array of commercial, diplomatic and defense deals," The Economist reported.

Israel has been working on Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa whose 150 million people are roughly divided evenly between Muslims and Christians.

Nigeria too is grappling with Islamist radicals and a damaging insurgency in the south that has partially crippled its all-important oil industry.

The Israelis have had some success there with arms sales worth $500 million in recent years.

In May 2006, Aeronautics Ventures sold air and sea drones to the Nigerian Defense Ministry to defend the southern oil zone in the Niger River Delta. Nigeria also contracted to buy two Shaldag patrol boats for $25 million.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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