A key aide to Iraqi National Congress party leader Ahmad Chalabi has paid a visit to Israel to explore "future horizons" in Iraqi-Israeli relations.
Midhat al-Alusi arrived in Tel Aviv earlier this week ostensibly to attend a conference on counter-terrorism at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre, a right-wing Israeli thinktank.
Al-Alusi, who heads the Iraqi interim government's "de-Baathification" campaign, voiced a desire to normalise relations with Israel, says Israeli press sources.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted the Iraqi official as saying there is widespread support in Iraq for the normalisation of relations with Israel.
"Many intellectuals in Iraq know that Israel must be taken into account as an existing fact and that generations of people have been born here. It is in Iraq's interests to have diplomatic relations with everyone, and that is what we want," he reportedly said.
US official Paul Wolfowitz has
had contact with Chalabi
Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was considered among Israel's most implacable Arab foes and consistently supported Palestinian resistance groups fighting Israel's decades-old occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The current American-backed Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi has not established open relations with Israel, apparently out of fear of a public backlash from the powerful Shia religious establishment.
Last week, the Iraqi ambassador to London told Haaretz there is a powerful lobby in Baghdad pushing for normalisation of relations between Iraq and Israel.
Israeli officials refused to comment on the visit, apparently heeding American advice.
Al-Alusi, who flew to Israel from Turkey, said he did not coordinate his visit to Israel with his boss, and admitted he might face problems when he returns to Iraq.
It is not clear if al-Alusi met secretly with Israeli officials or whether he discussed possible cooperation in the ongoing confrontation with armed Iraqi groups.
Chalabi had extensive relations with the pro-Israeli neo-cons in the Bush Administration, including such pivotal figures as Richard Pearl, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.
He has also had contact with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington, but it is not clear if he still maintains contact with the group.
"Many intellectuals in Iraq know that Israel must be taken into account as an existing fact... It is in Iraq's interests to have diplomatic relations with everyone, and that is what we want"
aide to Ahmad Chalabi
According to some sources, Chalabi had promised AIPAC and American Jewish leaders, prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, that the post-Saddam Iraqi government would normalise relations with Israel.
However, Chalabi's political fortunes have suffered considerably of late as the Bush administration has shunned him after he allegedly informed Tehran that the CIA had been able to penetrate Iranian intelligence codes.
Chalabi's offices in Baghdad have been raided several times by American and Iraqi troops accusing him of holding large sums of counterfeit Iraqi currency.
Chalabi has denied the charges, accusing the Americans and "certain elements within Iraq" of seeking to assassinate him politically.