YEREVAN—President Serzh Sarkisian called for the deepening of Armenia’s low-key relationship with Israel as he met with a visiting senior Israeli official on Tuesday.
Micha Lindenstrauss, Israel’s State Comptroller and Ombudsman, was in Yerevan at the invitation of Armenia’s Parliamentary Human Rights Defender and Ombudsman, Armen Harutyunyan.
According to the presidential press office, Sarkisian told Lindenstrauss that he finds, “the development of multi-faceted relations with Israel in all spheres of mutual interest,” to be important.
“The Head of State welcomed cooperation established between Armenia’s Office of the Human Rights Defender and the Israeli Ombudsman’s Office and stressed the importance of their ongoing efforts aimed at the exchange of experience,” read a short statement released by the office. It gave no further details of the meeting.
Lindenstrauss arrived in Armenia less than a month after he and Harutyunyan attended a session of the Mediterranean Association of Ombudsmen uniting top human rights officials from the wider region. The Armenian ombudsman was elected a member of the association at the meeting held in Madrid.
Like other participants, Harutyunyan opposed a Turkish official’s proposal to condemn Israel’s blockade of Gaza and harsh reaction to the recent Turkish-backed attempt to break it. He argued, among other things, that Turkey itself maintains a similar economic blockade of Armenia, which was imposed in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan.
Lindenstrauss, whose principal function is to monitor the legality and efficiency of decisions taken by Israeli public institutions, is a rare high-ranking representative of the Jewish state to visit Armenia. Armenian leaders have also rarely visited Israel.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was scheduled to pay an unofficial visit to Jerusalem together with His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, in mid-February. However, the trip was cancelled at the last minute, ostensibly because of Sarkisian’s illness.
The Armenian premier told the Israeli ambassador to Armenia, Shemi Tzur, afterwards that Yerevan is interested in, “broadening and deepening,” Armenian-Israeli ties.
Although Armenia and Israel have diplomatic relations, neither maintains an embassy in the other country. The Israeli ambassador to Armenia is based in Tbilisi, while Armenia’s interests in Israel are represented by its ambassador to France.
Successive Armenian and Israeli governments treaded carefully in developing bilateral relations. Armenia has traditionally had warm relations with Arab states and neighboring Iran, while Israel has until recently had close political and military ties with Armenia’s arch-foe Turkey.
Analysts believe that the dramatic worsening of Turkish-Israeli relations could change Yerevan’s and Tel Aviv’s geopolitical priorities. In particular, Jewish lobby groups in the United States are expected to stop helping Ankara defeat draft resolutions in the U.S. Congress recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. Israel’s parliament is expected to debate a similar resolution soon.