In First, Three Iraqi Delegations Said to Visit Israel

Palestinians worry over 'normalisation' of Arab-Israeli ties
AFP

TEL AVIV – Three delegations from Iraq have reportedly made trips to Israel in recent months, holding meetings with Israeli officials and academics, visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and meeting with experts in the field of Iraqi Jewish heritage.

The delegations, comprised of 15 Iraqi leaders including Sunni and Shiite clerics, were from Baghdad and not Iraqi Kurdistan, Hadashot TV news reported on Sunday night.

Iraq is officially at war with Israel and the highly secret visits were the first of their kind.

According to the report, the trips were shrouded in secrecy to avoid provoking Iraq’s close ally and neighbor Iran.

The visits were mostly “social-cultural in nature,” the report said, and included meetings with organizations related to and experts in Iraqi Jewish history with the goal of establishing “the infrastructure for future ties” between the enemy countries.

Late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein fired more than 40 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

However, Iraqis generally have a more favorable attitude towards the Jewish state than other Arab nations.

The Foreign Ministry last year launched an Arabic-language Facebook page aimed at building bridges to Iraq.

In June, Miss Iraq visited the Jewish state and reunited with Miss Israel, with whom she had posed for a selfie the previous year — an act that forced her family to flee Iraq to the U.S.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Israeli ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry: “When I meet with Arab leaders, they say to me, ‘We have security and economic interests, and we also want to enjoy the fruits of progress, and we will not mortgage our normalization with the State of Israel to the whims of the Palestinians.'”

Netanyahu added at the time, “This does not mean peace agreements yet, but it certainly says that a situation could be created in which our progress toward normalization and peace, instead of what we always thought, peace with the Palestinians to the Arab world, could actually be the reverse. It would be good if there was an agreement with the Palestinians, but it cannot be the condition. We are not conditioning our cohesion with the Arab world — normalization, on peace with the Palestinians.”

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