JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit two Muslim countries, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, in a bid “to strengthen diplomatic, security and economic relations.”
Netanyahu left Tuesday morning for the trip to what he called “two large and significant countries in the Islamic world.” It will be the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Kazakhstan, he said, and the second to Azerbaijan. Netanyahu was the first to visit Azerbaijan nearly two decades ago, during his first term as prime minister, when he met with the father of the current leader.
“In complete contrast to what is heard from time to time, not only is Israel not suffering from diplomatic isolation, Israel is a country that is coming back,” the prime minister said as he boarded the plane. “These countries want very much to strengthen ties with Israel and, following the strengthening of our relations with the major powers of Asia, with countries in Africa and with countries in Latin America, now come ties with important countries in the Islamic world.”
Netanyahu added: “This is part of a clear policy of going out to the world. Israel’s relations are flourishing in an unprecedented manner.”
Azerbaijan, a secular state with 98 percent of its population Muslim, has a long border with Iran. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with members of the Jewish community there. The Jewish population of Azerbaijan is about 20,000.
Netanyahu also will meet with representatives of the Jewish community in Kazakhstan, his second stop on the trip. Estimates of the number of Jews in the country range as high as 30,000.