Knesset Members Sharren Haskel (Likud) and Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp) are concluding on Sunday their official visit to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where they held a series of meetings with senior state officials, including the speaker of Tajikistan`s parliament, the country`s labor and agriculture ministers, as well as Members of Parliament.

The discussions centered on intensifying the cooperation between Israel and Tajikistan – mainly with regards to agriculture and health, and establishing permanent ties between the friendship groups of the countries` parliaments. The MKs invited senior government officials to visit Israel.

For the first time: MKs on official visit to Tajikistan

(MKs Haskel, left, and Yona in Dushanbe)

The visit marked the first time that members of Israel`s political echelon visit Tajikistan in an official capacity. Relations between the countries were established in 1992, and they are defined as ”friendly relations.” Israel is represented in Tajikistan by a non-resident ambassador. In October 1995, Tajikistan`s president, Emomali Rahmon, met with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, but generally, contacts between the countries were maintained by lower-level officials.

Tajikistan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, is a relatively small country (though its territory is seven times larger than Israel`s), and its total population is estimated at 8.6 million.

The MKs said they received a particularly warm welcome in Tajikistan. MK Haskel, head of the Israel-Tajikistan Parliamentary Friendship Group, said the visit by the Israeli parliamentary delegation is ”historic and groundbreaking in our relations with a country which, until now, has not maintained parliamentary relations with the State of Israel.”

For the first time: MKs on official visit to Tajikistan

”Tajikistan is a Muslim state that has close economic, social and cultural ties with Iran,” she continued. ”Tajikistan supported Iran`s nuclear program, opposed the international sanctions against Tehran, and has stood by the Palestinians in their disputes with Israel and the UN. Particularly because of this, their wish to establish parliamentary relations with Israel for the first time is extremely significant. The breakthrough in improving Israel`s status in the world will come from cooperating with countries that are not necessarily our natural partners.”

MK Yona said the visit was meant to ”strengthen the friendly relations between the countries and examine possibilities for fruitful cooperation. I expect that in light of our visit, official Tajikistani work delegations will visit Israel to give a practical expression to the developing cooperation.”