Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is scheduled to arrive Thursday at the head of a delegation of six ministers from Rome that will hold his country’s third annual government-to-government meeting with their Israeli counterparts.

This will be Monti’s first visit to Israel since taking over as prime minister from Silvio Berlusconi last November.

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Diplomatic officials said that the close relationship Jerusalem and Rome enjoyed under Berlusconi is continuing under Monti, with Italy considered among Israel’s closest friends in the EU, and a country which often comes to Israel’s support during deliberations on Israel and the Middle East inside the 27-member body.

Monti will be joined by Italy’s foreign, defense, justice, education and transportation ministers.

In recent years, Israel has launched annual government-to-government talks with a number of different countries, including – along with Italy – Germany, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Poland.

The benefit of this framework, according to diplomatic officials, is that in addition to discussing diplomatic issues, the fact that a large number of ministers meet their counterparts provides a major boost to bilateral cooperation.

Israel and Italy are expected to sign five bilateral agreements dealing with transportation; start-up and hi-tech cooperation; and youth and student exchanges.

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