jbe netanyahu

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chats with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and first lady Donna Edwards during a meeting in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, 2018. Photo provided by Louisiana Governor's Office. 

JERUSALEM — Gov. John Bel Edwards and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Wednesday to discuss possible future partnerships on cyber security and other priorities, as Edwards continues an economic development-focused mission to the Middle Eastern country.

"It's very nice to be in Israel," Edwards told Netanyahu as the two shook hands in their initial meeting. "We've been so well received."

Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009 after previously holding the position in the late 1990s, told Edwards that he has visited Louisiana in the past and enjoyed New Orleans.

"How could you not?" Netanyahu said with a laugh.

After their introductory chit-chat, the two posed for photos in front of an American flag and Israeli flag. The rest of their meeting, which included fewer than two dozen other people sitting at a long table inside the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, was closed to the press.

As the media and others were ushered out of the room, Edwards remarked to Netanyahu that he has often seen the prime minister on television and in the newspaper. Netanyahu joked that media reports about him may not have always been accurate.

Their meeting lasted for more than an hour and covered a broad range of topics, including opportunities for partnerships and cyber security threats.

Edwards, a Democrat, has been in Israel since Saturday, meeting with experts on water issues and cybersecurity, taking in the country's culture and historical sites and seeing first-hand the role that Israel is taking in Middle East conflict.

Edwards is scheduled to leave Israel Thursday evening and return to Louisiana Friday morning after an over-night flight.

"We were invited by Israel to come here for this trip," Edwards told an Advocate reporter covering the trip. "I think they try to make sure that (U.S. officials) all have an opportunity to see these things and get a personal appreciation."

Gilad Katz, Israel's consul general to the southwest United States, has joined Edwards for much of the trip and took part in the meeting with Netanyahu.

Ahead of the meeting with the prime minister — the highest profile event on Edwards' agenda for the week and one that required strict security measures -- the governor and others met with cybersecurity business leaders and the head of Israel's Innovation Authority in Tel Aviv.

"It's not every day we have a governor from any U.S. state coming here," IIA chief scientist Ami Appelbaum told Edwards. "We don't take it for granted that you are coming here. We take it as a big compliment but also a big responsibility."

Edwards, who took office in January 2016, currently serves as co-chairman of the National Governors Association’s Resource Center for State Cybersecurity with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. The NGA’s national cybersecurity conference will be held in Shreveport-Bossier City in May 2019. Over the course of his trip, Edwards has frequently asked public and private cybersecurity leaders in Israel to take part in the event. He mentioned it to Netanyahu, as well.

Edwards and Netanyahu also discussed the recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 Jewish senior citizens dead. Edwards on Sunday visited Jerusalem's Holocaust museum. He told Netanyahu about New Orleans' acclaimed World War II museum.

Edwards has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, even as some Democrats have voiced concerns about humanitarian issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region.

Edwards issued an executive order earlier this year to bar the state of Louisiana from doing business with any entities engaged in boycotting Israel.

During the trip, Edwards, an Army Airborne Ranger and graduate of West Point, visited an Israeli Defense Forces base near the Gaza Strip and was briefed on the country’s “Iron Dome” air defense system and traveled close to the Syrian border for a briefing on the conflict in the Golan Heights region.

He said Israeli government officials had stressed that they wanted him to see the country's security situation first-hand. 

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.