Strategic dialogue with UK, Berlusconi victory bode well for Israel in Europe

flags 88 (photo credit: )
flags 88
(photo credit: )
In an indication of Israel's steadily improving relations with Europe, Israel and the United Kingdom held their first-ever "strategic dialogue" in London on Monday, just a week after Israel held a similar dialogue with France in Jerusalem. The meeting came on a day when Israel's position in Europe got an additional boost with the election of Silvio Berlusconi as Italian prime minister. Berlusconi is considered a "good friend" who proved himself when he served as prime minister earlier this decade. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Berlusconi Tuesday to congratulate him on his victory and invited him to the 60th Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations. Berlusconi already said Monday night that his first trip abroad as prime minister would be to Israel. With Berlusconi now Italy's leader, and leaders considered very friendly leading France (Nicolas Sarkozy), Germany (Angela Merkel) and Great Britain (Gordon Brown), sources in Jerusalem said Israel now had a favorable constellation in place in Europe. The timing is extremely fortuitous, the sources said, considering the lack of clarity regarding the next US president and how the economic difficulties in the US will impact that country's international status and policy. The sources added that while there were a number of friendly governments now in Europe, Israel's position among the people in those countries had not significantly improved. Another source said that while Italian-Israeli bilateral relations continued to flourish under the premiership of Romano Prodi, Israel did not receive the backing from Italy in international forums or EU institutions that it did under Berlusconi's first tenure. In addition, the source said, Prodi's foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, made a number of statements that raised eyebrows in Jerusalem. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, meanwhile, said the strategic dialogue in London represented a significant upgrade in the ties between the two countries. The only other countries with which Israel has a strategic dialogue are the US and France. The official explained that these annual strategic dialogues allow both sides to share intelligence assessments and chart policy goals in a very open and candid manner. The talks in London focused on regional issues, dealing with Iran, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli team was headed by Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch, and the UK team was led by Foreign Office Permanent Undersecretary Peter Ricketts. In addition to Foreign Ministry officials, intelligence officials from both countries were involved in the talks.