German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their meeting at the prime minister's residence Feb. 24. (Agence France-Presse)
TEL AVIV — Third-term German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 ministers in her new coalition government arrived Monday evening for inter-governmental consultations with Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem.
Hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Merkel-led delegation is by far the largest of five Cabinet-level consultations held in the past several years and marks 50 years of bilateral diplomatic ties.
The event kicks off with a private dinner between Merkel and Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence while other ministers, including Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, meet for a dinner hosted by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Working sessions will continue through early afternoon Feb. 25 before most German Cabinet members depart for Berlin. Merkel and a smaller team are scheduled to depart several hours later, following meetings planned with Israel’s President Shimon Peres.
In a Feb. 24 announcement, Israel’s Government Press Office said the joint Cabinet session was expected to conclude in several new agreements aimed at furthering cooperation between the two governments.
While unspecified, defense and industry sources here said a defense trade deal involving German offshore patrol vessels for the Israel Navy could be included in agreements signed between the two governments.
“Germany has played a critical role in strengthening Israel’s deterrence capacities in supplying Israel with six Dolphin submarines, the most expensive weapon system in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF),” wrote Ra’anan Eliaz, co-founder of ELNET, an organization promoting closer relations between Israel and key European countries.
In a commentary published in Feb. 24 issues of Ha’aretz, Eliaz noted that Germany has underwritten nearly one-third of the costs associated with Israel’s multibillion euro submarine program.
Speaking to Cabinet ministers Feb. 23, Netanyahu hailed Merkel as “a friend of Israel.” Netanyahu said talks will focus on ongoing international efforts to reach a deal with Iran and to forge a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestine Authority.
“Regarding our negotiations with the Palestinians, I will make it clear that the infrastructure of peace between us and the Palestinians will be based on the mutual recognition of two national states, i.e. the necessity of Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state, the national state of the Jewish people,” he said.
As for nuclear talks with Iran, Netanyahu said, “Since Germany is part [of the negotiating forum], I view with concern the fact that Iran believes that it will realize its plan to be a nuclear threshold state, with an enrichment capacity that it thinks cannot be touched, with the ability to develop both nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which it is continuing to work on unhindered.” ■