Irish FM arrives to boost domestic profile

Israel hopes the visit will improve ties between the two countries.

Dermot Ahern, the foreign minister of Ireland, a country whose relations with Israel can best be described as "cool," arrived in Israel Tuesday night for a brief visit as part of a regional tour that will also take him to Egypt and Lebanon. Ahern's visit at this time is widely considered in Jerusalem as an attempt to raise his domestic profile and the profile of his Fianna F il party before the upcoming Irish elections. A spokeswoman at the Irish embassy in Tel Aviv said that this would be Ahern's first visit to the region in over a year. He has not yet met with the new Israeli leadership, the spokeswoman said, and wanted to assess how it viewed the diplomatic process. Ahern is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday. He will also meet in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Israel's relations with Ireland are widely considered in Jerusalem as among the worst Israel has with any European country, and Ireland is roughly clumped together in Jerusalem with the Scandinavian countries in the EU as being among the most critical of Israel. There are very few people-to-people ties, and trade with Ireland - despite the booming Irish economy - declined by 36 percent to $460 million last year. While Irish leaders have over the last year led large delegations of Irish businessmen to Saudi Arabia, there has not been any similar delegation to Israel. The feeling in Jerusalem, however, is that Ahern has tried to improve the atmosphere, having visited a synagogue in Dublin and having issued more balanced statements than in the past following terrorist attacks in Israel. Before leaving Ireland, Ahern released a statement condemning the bombing attack in Eilat, as well as the internal-Palestinian violence. "These latest killings confirm yet again that the only way forward for the Israeli and the Palestinian people is an urgent return to a credible political process for a negotiated two-state solution. This is the message I will highlight in my meetings over the coming days with political leaders in Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon," the statement read. Ahern is scheduled to meet in Lebanon with Irish troops there as part of the UNIFIL mission. Ireland has a contingent of some 150 troops in Lebanon.