An Israeli delegation is embarking Sunday on a historic visit to Muslim countries Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
President Shimon Peres will
head the delegation to the two Muslim countries, which will include Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, Science Minister Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz and Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris.
They will be accompanied by some 60 representatives of military-industrial companies and leading Israeli companies in the field of water technology, agriculture, communications, and medical equipment.
Oil field in Azerbaijan, one of Israel's suppliers (Photo: AFP)
The visit will be the first official government visit of senior Israeli figures to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan since diplomatic relations were normalized in the 90s. Peres will be received by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.
Classified reports received by Israel revealed that Iran
had placed heavy pressure in recent weeks on the two countries, and had even offered them money should they cancel the visit. These efforts, however, were to no avail.
The president will speak before an inter-faith forum in Kazakhstan, in which many Muslim leaders and religious figures will participate, including Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, with whom Peres already met two and a half years ago on a visit to Qatar.
Whether by chance or not, the sheikh's stay in a luxury Paris hotel overlapped
with that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
just last week. There has been now confirmation, however that the two met during this time.
The President's Residence reported that Peres is planning on addressing a number of political and security issues during his meetings with the political echelons of the two countries and will focus on realizing the unfulfilled potential of economic and technological cooperation between the countries.
Upon the conclusion of the visit, the ministers will hold a ceremony at which a series of bilateral agreements will be signed by the presidents, including an agreement to cancel the visa requirements to enter Kazakhstan.
The large mosque in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
One of the central events of the trip, which is slated to last four days, will be Peres' speech on Wednesday before an inter-faith panel in Kazakhstan in which hundreds of Muslim leaders and religious figures from the Middle East and the world will participate. The chief rabbis of Israel
and the minister of religious affairs will also be in attendance.
The forum is being organized by the Kazakh government together with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
Peres is also scheduled to speak before a group of hundreds of Muslim students at the Azerbaijan University of Languages on Monday.
The president will take the opportunity of this visit also to meet with hundreds of Jewish community members in the two countries, including those from the centuries-old Jewish community from the Caucasus mountain region.
The new synagogue in Kazakhstan, where some 10,000 Jews enjoy freedom of religion and Jewish cultural life, will be consecrated as part of Peres' tour.
Azerbaijan has a Jewish community of similar proportions that also enjoys notable religious tolerance.
Last month a terror attack o the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan was thwarted.
Itamar Eichner contributed to this report