DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres launched the highest-level visit of an Israeli to the Gulf region in more than a decade, traveling to Qatar yesterday to appear in a television debate show.
Peres will spend two days in Qatar, where he will answer "tough and controversial questions" from 300 Arab students, according to organizers of the BBC show "Doha Debates."
Peres also was the last major Israeli official to travel to any Gulf Arab country when he visited Qatar in 1996 as Israel's prime minister, said Roi Rosenblit, the head of Israel's trade mission in Doha. The six Gulf Arab countries, all US allies, do not recognize Israel. But Qatar maintains low-level ties with the Jewish state.
Rosenblit described Israel's diplomatic ties with Qatar as "low-profile but good."
Peres accepted an invitation to appear on the BBC program, which will be recorded this evening, Rosenblit said. He will be interviewed by host Tim Sebastian and will field audience questions on the state of the peace process with the Palestinians, Israel's summer offensive in Lebanon, the region's nuclear issues, and the potential for prisoner exchanges.
Rosenblit said Peres's trip was not an official diplomatic visit and there were no planned bilateral meetings with Qatari officials.
But Peres is expected to have opportunities to talk with leaders in attendance at the "Doha Debates" TV show, which is overseen by Qatar's first lady, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned.
Peres also plans to speak at the Doha campus of Georgetown University, Rosenblit said.
The Israelis hope to enlist Qatar's help in winning the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas. Rosenblit said he didn't know whether Peres would be able to address the issue in this visit.
Peres's appearance will be broadcast this Saturday and Sunday by BBC World.
For information, go to the show's website, thedohadebates.com