Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Uganda on Monday afternoon for what is expected to be an emotional visit to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Israeli military raid in which his brother was killed.
Netanyahu was welcomed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the Entebbe International Airport, a lakeside facility whose old terminal is where his brother, Yonatan, was struck by a bullet as he led Israeli commandos in a daring rescue mission to rescue hijacked Israeli and Jewish passengers. Israel's success in the raid humiliated then-Ugandan President Idi Amin.
At Entebbe, there will be a formal ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the Israeli rescue mission and Netanyahu will be given a tour of the airport's control tower, according to a draft schedule released by Uganda's government. In the evening there will be a state dinner honoring Netanyahu, before he leaves for Kenya.
Although the July 1976 rescue mission breached Uganda's territorial integrity, Amin, who had taken power by force and ruled as a dictator, had become an increasingly isolated figure and would soon by forced out of power with the help of Tanzanian forces. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni himself led one of several exile groups that waged a guerrilla war against Amin.
A lingering loathing of Amin, who was accused of many human rights atrocities and who died in Saudi Arabia in 2003, is one reason why many Ugandans today do not see the success of the Israeli raid -- in which many Ugandan soldiers were killed and military equipment destroyed -- as a disaster for Uganda. Yonatan was shot dead as he was leading the forces storming the airport's old terminal, where the hostages were held. His death made Yonatan an Israeli hero, and thrust Netanyahu toward public life.
Still, some Ugandans say Netanyahu's historic visit should be a moment to mourn the Ugandan victims of the operation. Moses Ali, Uganda's deputy prime minister who served as a government minister under Amin, told Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper that the rescue mission should not be celebrated by Ugandans.
"If you are siding with Israelis, then you can celebrate because it was their victory," he said. "If you are not, then you should be mourning our dead ones."
Netanyahu will also be visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia this week.
In exchange for its expertise in security and other fields, Israel wants African states to side with it at the UN, where the General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state in 2012. The Palestinians have used their upgraded status to launch a diplomatic offensive against Israel and its occupation of lands where the Palestinians hope to establish a future state.
"Israel has been on a mission to repair its image globally and more specifically within the UN where the Africa group has for decades now supported the Palestinian cause, and vote in general towards that end," said Angelo Izama, a Ugandan analyst who runs a think tank called Fana Kwawote.
As a key US ally on regional security, especially in violence-prone Somalia, Uganda is an attractive ally for Israel as well, according to Izama.
"Washington views the Museveni administration as a regional hegemon, a key to the security of the wider region. Uganda's involvement in counter-terrorism in Somalia ... and its significant expenditure on security goods, including arms and technology, are another reason" for Netanyahu's visit, he said.