Israeli President Chaim Herzog's trip to Zaire and Liberia last month shows - perhaps more than many recent moves - that Israel is bidding to reinstate diplomatic relations with Africa.
Most of its ties with black Africa, which were close in the '60s, were severed after Israel's '73 war with Egypt, a member of the Organization of African Unity.
But trade between Israel and black Africa has been on the rise recently, due in no small part to Israeli diplomatic efforts. And now restoration of diplomatic relations with some nations seems in sight. Herzog's trip last month was the first by an Israeli president to black Africa for nearly 20 years. The nations he visited were the first black African countries to renew diplomatic relations with Israel - Zaire in 1982 and Liberia in 1983.
President Herzog's visit was both a sign of gratitude and an invitation to other African countries to renew relations.
Africa is the only region of the world where Israeli trade has been expanding. Trade with black Africa was estimated at more than $100 million for 1983 and Israel is looking for increased exports here.
It is also looking for more friends to stand with it at the United Nations.
Herzog's remarks in Zaire and Liberia played to black Africa's concern about Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's actions in Chad and his wider intentions.
Israel has helped to improve Liberia's intelligence service, notably information-gathering about alleged Libyan subversion. It is also working to improve Liberian agricultural, health, and air services.
Aid for Zaire consists mainly of military training. Israelis have trained the presidential guard, which has doubled in size, and reorganized a 12,000-man unit in the strategic Shaba copper region. President Mobutu Sese Seko's decision to renew ties with Israel has pleased the US but infuriated Arabs. Arab aid, which was some $400 million between 1974 and '81, has been suspended.
Chedli Ayari, president of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, describes Zaire's action as a ''flagrant denial'' of Afro-Arab friendship and warns that any African country that renews ties with Israel will also lose aid.
But many African, particularly non-Muslim, countries have been disappointed at the level of Arab aid. The aid, they feel, does not compensate for the rise in their oil import bills since 1973.
Mr. Ayari says, however, that Arab aid to Africa has risen to $1 billion from
Some African leaders have refused to accept the strings attached to Arab aid.
Malawi, Swaziland, and Lesotho never broke relations with Israel. But there is still no sign of influential nations such as Nigeria, Kenya, or the Ivory Coast renewing diplomatic ties even though they have maintained substantial commercial links. (And most of the 4,000 Israeli technicians in Africa are working in Nigeria.)
The Ivory Coast's Houphouet-Boigny is reportedly sympathetic to Israel. Although he is apparently reluctant to take a solo initiative, a move involving other countries such as Gabon, Togo, and the Central African Republic could be envisaged, observers say.