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Former Iraqi Diplomat on Rare Visit to Israel

JERUSALEM – Hamad a-Sharifi, a former diplomat at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, arrived on Sunday for a visit to Israel, Israeli paper Ynet reported.

The unusual visit by the national of a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations comes as many Arab states grow increasingly close to Israel following the signing of the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran and the ascent of the Islamic State terror group.

Sharifi, who lives in London, served for many years as a diplomat in various postings outside Iraq. From 2005-2006 he was posted to Kuwait as the first Iraqi diplomat sent since the Iraq War in the early 1990s, when Iraq’s then-leader Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny Gulf country.

Sharifi also served as a diplomatic adviser and head of the delegation at the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan in 2006. He was posted outside his homeland before the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, and according to past reports has survived several assassination attempts.

“I want to thank Hassan Ka’biyeh, spokesman of the [Israeli] Foreign Ministry, who convinced me to come and see the real Israel, which we have only seen until now through the filter of anti-Israel television screens,” Sharifi told Ynet.

“I hope to be Iraq’s ambassador to Israel one day and that Hassan will be Israel’s ambassador to Iraq,” Sharifi said. “I consider myself a friend of Israel. At this point in time the Arabs need to know there is no conflict between Israel and the Arab states, there is only conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I hope it is solved and that peace will be made.”

During his visit to Israel, Sharifi is expected to meet senior MKs and officials from all three religions and tour the Temple Mount, Western Wall, the Knesset, the High Court of Justice, and other locations. Sharifi is also expected to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

Sharifi heads a group called Liberal Islam and has published articles on Islamic religious law from a modern perspective.

The head of the Digital Diplomacy Department in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yonatan Gonen, said Sharifi’s visit showed that the digital era has erased international borderlines.

“We receive many messages from residents of Iraq, many expressing support of Israel or expressing longing for the Jewish community that lived there. We are conducting dialogue with many Iraqis through social media and the feeling is that there is understanding, warmness, and even closeness between the two peoples,” said Gonen.

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