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Israeli Defense Minister to Discuss Military Cooperation with Italian Officials

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is on a three-day visit to Italy to discuss military cooperation with Italian officials. He arrived Thursday evening from Poland where officials requested Israel's assistance to control what is now the eastern border of the European Union.

Israel Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz came to Italy to discuss a broad range of military issues with Italian officials. Earlier this week he held similar talks in Poland where he met the top government officials in Warsaw.

The Polish interior minister, Ryszard Klisz, expressed concern to Mr. Mofaz over efforts to control the eastern border of the European Union. He discussed sending a delegation of Polish experts to Israel to study the security techniques used on its barrier built along the border with the Palestinians.

The Rome correspondent of Israel's Maariv newspaper, Menachem Gantz, says Poland's concerns are similar to those of the Israeli government. Warsaw officials are seeking ways to prevent dangerous people from crossing into Polish territory, which is why they want to learn more about the barrier Israel is building.

"Poland is today the east frontier of the European Union," said Menachem Gantz. "And, they are very much concerned about the smuggling groups of drugs and also terrorist activists that might try to get into Europe. And as Poland has today to guarantee in front of the European Union that it takes care of its borders, they are intending to send in the next few weeks a delegation of experts to study and understand the techniques that Israel uses in this fence."

Mr. Gantz added that Poland, which borders on Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine in the east, is preparing 14 checkpoints along its eastern border and dozens of observation points. They need to patrol hundreds of kilometers and are very interested in Israel's experience and techniques.

In Italy, according to an Israeli defense officials earlier this week, Mr. Mofaz was also to discuss the joint development of a new electronic warfare system designed to disable enemy aircraft. Until now Israel has confined its cooperation in the highly secretive electronic warfare field to the United States.

Mr. Gantz said this change for Israel has to do with the present center-right government in Italy, led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"It's mainly due to a politics that this specific government of Berlusconi has been trying to show toward Israel in the last three years," he said. "Also because of the good feeling between the White House and Berlusconi's administration that's definitely also opened the way for this kind of cooperation."

Israeli defense ministry sources say no other country in the European Union enjoys this type of military cooperation with Israel. Relations between Italy and Israel improved significantly following Rome's support of the U.S. led war on terrorism. The Italian prime minister has also backed Israel's need for security as well as its policy toward the Palestinians.