Sweden nixes Italy air show over Israel

Sweden and other Scandanavian countries are the harshest European critics of Israeli behavior. One of the largest regions in Norway, Trondheim, has banned the sale of Israeli goods as well. Haaretz, April 28:

Israel summons Swedish envoy over NATO drill, visas for Hamas
Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor on Thursday summoned Swedish Ambassador to Israel Robert Rydberg to clarify Stockholm`s decision to withdraw from a NATO international air force exercise because of Israel`s participation, as well as reports that the Scandinavian country was planning to grant visas to two Hamas representatives.

Sweden called off its participation in the air force exercises to take place in Italy next month because of the involvement of the Israel Air Force in the drills.

Prosor told Rydberg that those who do not see Israel as a legitimate peacekeeping force could not be surprised that Israel does not view them as having legitimate involvement in the Middle East peace process.

He told the ambassador that Israel had received reports that Sweden intended to be the first European state to grant visas to Hamas officials, which would be seen as bestowing legitimacy on a terrorist organization.

`We do make a connection between these two events and are concerned with Sweden`s positions on them,` the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm said in a statement.

Rydberg said in response that the Hamas officials had requested visas, but that they had not been granted in any event. He said that even if the visas were issued, the Hamas representatives would not meet with Swedish dignitaries in an official capacity.

Regarding the NATO drill, Rydberg said that Sweden had `technical and financial` reasons for dropping out of the exercise, and pointed out that Israel and Sweden had never participated in the same peacekeeping exercise.

Prosor replied that the envoy`s remarks were `insulting and unacceptable.`

Sweden was supposed to send nine aircraft to Italy for Volcanex 2006. According to a Swedish military source, the decision was made in response to Israel`s lack of participation in peacekeeping missions, a prerequisite for this particular drill.

While not mentioning Israel by name, Swedish Defense Minister Leni Bjorklund said that her country was withdrawing because `the Swedish Armed Forces were notified at a late stage that a state not belonging to the Partnership for Peace, and with which Sweden did not previously have bilateral military cooperation and which does not take part in international peacekeeping missions, was to take part in the air exercise.`

`The Government has given and gives the Swedish Armed Forces permission to carry out a number of different military exercises. This permission is applicable as long as there is no significant change in the conditions for the exercise. In the cases of the Volcanex and Spring Flag air exercises in Italy, international peacekeeping missions were the exercise scenario,` added Bjorklund.

A Swedish Foreign Ministry official said, `The point of the operation is to prepare for international cooperation in preserving world peace. The participation of the Israeli air force changes the prerequisites of the drill.`

Israeli officials have responded harshly to the decision.

One government source said, `The lack of sympathy for Israel in Sweden is out of proportion. Some government ministers spearhead the most anti-Israel approach in all of Europe, and particularly in Scandinavia. In meetings between senior Israelis and Swedish ministers, the Swedes refuse to listen to Israel`s positions.`

National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev, called Sweden`s decision anti-Semitic, saying, `Just a day after the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, an enlightened nation has risen and surrendered to the Islamic axis of evil.`

See our last post on Israel/Palestine, and on Italy.