OFFICIAL RELATIONS have been established between Israel and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Noam Katz, who is Israel's Ambassador to Nigeria and who is also accredited to Ghana, last Thursday presented his credentials in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to ECOWAS Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas at the organization's headquarters. In welcoming the new development, Ibn Chambas spoke of Israel's significant contribution to the economic and social development of West Africa. Katz expressed the hope that the formalization of relations would lead to deeper cooperation between Israel and countries of the region, particularly in the fields of agriculture, quality of the environment, culture and scientific and technological development. Established in 1975 with the aim of advancing economic integration and creating an economic and political bloc in West Africa, a region rich in diamonds and oil, but suffering from underdevelopment, poverty and the lack of political stability, ECOWAS has become a key player not only in economic integration and development but also in politics and security. It maintains peacekeeping forces in the region and monitors the West African arms trade as part of an international effort to prevent small arms from reaching terrorist and criminal organizations. ECOWAS comprises 10 member states - Burkina Fasso, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bassau, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Cape Verde, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Sierra Leone and Senegal, whose combined populations total around 220 million people. Other than Mali, Guinea and Niger, Israel has diplomatic ties with all ECOWAS member states. LATVIAN AMBASSADOR Karlis Eihenbaums has invited ambassadors of all Baltic and Scandinavian countries as well as members of Israel's business community who have business relations with those countries to join him in celebrating the commencement of airBaltic's scheduled direct flights between Riga and Tel Aviv. A member of the SAS Group, airBaltic on June 5 will launch its new direct flight service, which initially will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Flight time on the Boeing 737-500 will take four hours and 15 minutes, and one-way fares begin at US$250. Terming the introduction of the direct flights "an historical moment," Eihenbaums said it was the result of recent State visits by President Moshe Katsav to Latvia and President Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga to Israel. The flights, which are proof of the excellent relations between the two countries, will serve to enhance those relations in many spheres said Eihenbaums. Latvians will have more opportunities to visit Israel, he noted and Israelis will have more opportunities to discover Riga, the Metropolis of the Baltics. Bertholt Flick, the president of airBaltic, made the point that the airline is currently the only carrier in the Baltics and Scandinavia that is providing a direct, regular service to Tel Aviv. A joint stock company founded in 1995, airBaltic's principal shareholders are the Latvian State (52.5%) and SAS (47.2%). It has a fleet of 16 aircraft, and in 2005 carried 1.04 million passengers. BRITISH AIRWAYS has promoted Alon Amid, 43, the finance manager of British Airways Israel to regional finance manager for South East Europe. In his new capacity, Amid will be responsible for managing business and finance data, as well as supervision and control of the company's financial operations in the region. His area of operations encompasses nine countries including Israel. The others are Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Kosova. Amid, a Sabra who was raised and educated in England, returned to Israel in 1987 and joined British Airways in 1994. VICE PREMIER Shimon Peres has not lost his powers of persuasion. During a meeting with Hans Kennedie, the International President of the Golden Tulip hotel chain, who had come to Israel primarily to sign a contract with David Fattal CEO of Fattal Hotels, Peres persuaded him to set up a Golden Tulip hotel school in Israel that would function both as a hotel and a school in which theory could instantly be put into practice. In the course of his visit, Kennedie also met with Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, Tourism Ministry director-general Eli Cohen, Malibu Israel chairman Joseph Shalgi and Beersheba Mayor and former Air Force ace Yaacov Terner, who gave him an autographed photograph in which the plane is much more visible than the pilot. FIRST TIME visitors to Israel - even those staying in three star hotels - are often overwhelmed by the Israeli breakfast with its rich assortment of baked goods, fish, cheeses and other dairy products, salad ingredients and fresh fruit. Of course in four and five star hotels, the choice is even greater, and the sumptuous breakfasts also include a vast array of baked and fried delicacies that may taste delicious but are not entirely conducive to fitness and good health. With its finger on the pulse of international trends, the Dan Hotel Chain this week launched its Eating Well and Living Well program that puts new focus on health and fitness in its breakfasts and its leisure time activities. The new Eating Well breakfasts with greater emphasis on proper nutrition were launched this week by Dan Hotels general manager Ami Hirshtein, deputy general manager for marketing and sales Rafi Beeri, and head of food and beverages Haim Spiegel. All three emphasized the impact of Eating Well and Living Well trends in the global tourist industry. The Living Well philosophy, said Beeri, has become increasingly pervasive throughout the western world, with people paying more attention to how they live and the nutritional and health giving properties of the foods they eat. In formulating its Eating Well and Living Well programs, the hotel chain organized workshops that were addressed by physicians, dieticians, physical fitness experts, et al. The new breakfast menus in all 12 Dan Hotels are rich in potassium, light on sugar - often without any sugar at all - light on salt and abundant in vitamins and energizing nutrients. All guests arriving at any hotel in the chain will receive a booklet on Eating Well and Living Well aimed at making them feel better about themselves at the end of their stay than when they arrived. AFTER SIX intensive years as Water Commissioner, with many achievements to his credit, Shimon Tal is leaving his post. It is not entirely clear whether the decision is his own or that of National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer. Following a meeting between the two on Sunday, Ben Eliezer thanked Tal for all he had accomplished, especially by way of reforms that are currently being implemented. He made particular mention of Tal's initiative to establish a Water Authority. Ben Eliezer also announced the formation of a committee whose task it would be to find a suitable successor to Tal. TWO LEADING Israeli companies, Tescom and RAD Data Communications/BellSouth received top honors at the recent American-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) Eagle Star Awards Gala in recognition of their outstanding performance that has generated both jobs and investment in the region and Israel. Tescom was named "Israeli Company of the Year" and RAD Data Communications and its partner, BellSouth, were recognized as "Deal of the Year." The Eagle Star Awards honor the people and companies who have contributed most to Southeastern US-Israel business relationships. Keynote speaker, Mark L. Hanny, vice president of worldwide ISV Alliances & GTM, who oversees IBM's Global Technology Unit in Israel described the manner in which IBM-Israel a leader in global technology leader is incorporating Israeli innovation and expertise in solutions for its customers worldwide. In addition to Tel Aviv-based Tescom and RAD Data, the Eagle Star Gala featured additional awards: the "Chamber Founders Award," which was presented to Dr. Mark Braunstein, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Patient Care Technologies; and the "Community Partner Award," which was accepted by Jay Davis, chairman of the Advisory Board of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), a joint project of Georgia State University with local, state,and federal law enforcement agencies. GILEE promotes cooperation with Israeli law enforcement through professional education exchanges in Georgia and Israel. The agency's executive director, Dr. Robert Friedmann, serves as chairman of AICC's Security Committee. ISRAELI INITIATIVE is being encouraged from a young age. During this past year, 15,000 high school students participated in unique projects to develop Israeli products for specialized purposes and general consumer use. The projects operated under the banner: 'For me a Zionist is an Israeli developer.' The projects were initiated in the hope of sparking professions in which more trained and innovative people are needed to fill certain gaps that have contributed to a certain slowdown in development. There is an acute shortage of trained technical engineers, and there are at least 2,000 vacancies to be filled in this sphere. The project is a joint endeavor of the Israel Manufacturers Association, the Education Ministry and the IDF aimed at encouraging high school students to opt for professions in the technology and science fields. A special ceremony was held on Monday to review some of the innovative products and to give prizes for the best. Among those attending the ceremony were IMA President Shraga Brosh; Dr. Hannah Vinik, head of the science and technology division of the Education Ministry; Moti Keren, chairman of Unilever Israel; and Ruthie Gorenstein who chairs the education committee in the Administrations Forum of the IMA. THE SLOGAN is "Steaks you'll leave home for..." and the logo of the square-shaped business card which is chocolate on one side and ivory on the other is the outline of an Angus steak. Laurence Thorpe, International Project Manager for The Meat & Wine Co., an up-market steak and wine bar that also serves kosher spare ribs, sausages, burgers that are all barbecued on the fire, handed out a lot of these unique business cards on Sunday night at the official opening of the first link in what he plans will be a chain of Meat & Wine Co. eateries across Israel. "We'll be in Jerusalem in about four months," he promised an Australian expatriate who lives in the capital and was weaned on what MWC has on its menu. Already well established in Australia, South Africa and Dubai, MWC wisely opened its first venture in Israel in Herzliya Pituah's Shenkar Street - a hop, skip and a jump from the Haifa-Tel Aviv highway, but more important, the restaurant hub of the area, with large, beautifully designed premises competing with each other and offering enormous variety in both kosher and non-kosher cuisine in the most elegant of ambiences. MWC is located in the huge new Super-Pharm House along with several other equally elegant restaurants. AFTER 35 years at the helm of Gesher, (Bridge), the amazingly successful outreach institution that he founded, Rabbi Danny Tropper has stepped down and has been succeeded as director-general by Shoshi Becker, who was previously Gesher's Education Director in which capacity she was responsible for the formulation and production of Gesher's educational programs. Now she will have to be responsible for Gesher in its entirety - and that includes fund-raising. Gesher, which works with schools, the IDF and television, has 50 permanent staff members and 300 freelancers. It maintains a film foundation that produces television programs aimed at convincing Israeli audiences that respect for and knowledge of the other enables people from different backgrounds and with different attitudes and customs to live together in harmony. Becker, who was born in England, came on aliya with her parents in 1967. MIGDAL CAPITAL Markets director general Noam Braverman has announced that attorney Alon Alpert, a former partner in the law firm of Piran & Partners has joined Migdal,and will act as the company's legal adviser.