Israel's new best friend? Try Albania

By Jessica Elgot, November 24, 2011
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Albanian PM Sali Barisha

Albanian PM Sali Barisha

Israel and Albania might seem unlikely kindred spirits - but the Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Barisha, has claimed the two countries are a "model of co-existence and mutual respect".

In a speech at the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations this week, Mr Barisha reeled off a list of striking similarities.

Both countries fear the rise of radical Islam, both are categorically opposed to a recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, both see Iran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the greatest threat to peace and both places were sanctuaries for Jews fleeing from Nazi-occupied countries.

On Palestinian attempts to achieve statehood, Mr Barisha said: "Short cuts will not produce the desired result - peace."

He said Albania's relationship with Israel could be a model for other Muslim countries. The country protected its Jewish population during the Nazi era and admitted many Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. He declared himself thrilled that Israel would soon open an embassy in Tirana.

He added: "A nuclear Iran is for sure the greatest threat to peace and stability in the region and in the world…There is only one man who I know of today who is using the same language which the Nazis used 70 years ago and that is President Ahmadinejad."

The country has little history of antisemitism and, during the Second World War, most of its 600 Jews were hidden by locals.

Jewish-Albanian ties were celebrated at this year's Holocaust Memorial Day in January as the focus of a campaign for better interfaith relations run by the Exploring Islam Foundation.

    Last updated: 12:57pm, November 24 2011