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.

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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