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During a festive dinner held Monday in honor of visiting Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Rome government's stance in support of tough sanctions against Iran in a bid to thwart its nuclear program.

"Humanity stands before one of its most difficult tests since World War II," said Netanyahu, who presided over the dinner at Jerusalem's King David Hotel. "The radical Islamic regime threats the well-being of the state of Israel, the region, and all of humanity."

"What is needed today is clear-cut evidence that there is an objective, determination, and, above all, courage," Netanyahu said.

Directing his statements to Berlusconi, the prime minister said: "I must say, Silvio my dear friend, you have clear vision, you have determination, and you have the courage of a real leader."

"I can only hope that the rest of the leaders of the free world find these traits in time and line up shoulder to shoulder to stop this danger," Netanyahu said.

"We are lucky that there are leaders like you," the premier said of Berlusconi. "I don't think there's a better friend [of Israel] in the international community."

Berlusconi replied that he naturally supported "your people, your country and your history. My policies have always been in line with the policies of the Prime Minister of Israel."

Berlusconi also promised almost automatic Italian support for Israel in the international community.

"I will continue to act as I have acted until now from a belief in the righteousness of your path and from the belief that it is impossible to take my eyes away from the proven dangers that you see," he said.

"I brought my government with me here for the first of many meetings," Berlusconi added. "Israel has become one of the five closest countries to Italy. You can turn to us in any request for support in the international community. I want to promise you that this is not just my position. This is also the position of the entire Italian government and people."

Berlusconi then talked about his visit to Yad Vashem earlier in the evening.

"I was introduced previously to the terrible history of your people by Jewish friends of mine," he said. "I have visited Auschwitz and I felt like I was part of your history."

"My job is to make sure that world leaders do not commit the same error of the past, the error of indifference that brought about the greatest tragedy in history."

Berlusconi declared on Sunday as he arrived at an historic joint meeting with the Israeli cabinet that he hoped this first visit would usher in an era of extensive cooperation between the two countries.

Berlusconi told a welcoming ceremony at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office that his dream is to see Israel become a member of the European Union.

"We would like a committed friendship to grow from this meeting, to work together toward the future," Berlusconi said. "I hope we can all look toward of future of profit and prosperity, particularly at peace for you, whose fragile existence hangs on the doubt of somebody we all oppose."

In a break with common practice, Berlusconi was received at a formal ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Afterward, he went to the Grove of Nations, on Mt. Herzl, where he planted a tree. From there he continued to Yad Vashem, where he laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance and visited the Holocaust museum.

Berlusconi arrived in Israel for a three-day visit, together with seven cabinet ministers, for the first-ever Israeli-Italian joint cabinet meeting.

In addition to Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the ministers were expected to discuss improving cooperative efforts and bilateral relations.

The joint meeting of the ministers officially began Monday night with a gala dinner at the King David Hotel.

Most of Berlusconi's working meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, beginning with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and then opposition chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni. He will have lunch with Netanyahu while the seven Italian cabinet ministers in the entourage meet with their Israeli counterparts.

On Wednesday morning Berlusconi will address the Knesset in a special session, and then open an exhibition of seven original sketches from Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus. The Italian premier will end his visit here with a lunch with President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence. From there he will go to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Berlusconi will leave Israel on Wednesday evening.