persson, gustaf 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Sweden claims that its decision to pull out of a NATO air force exercise has nothing to do with the participation of the Israeli air force in the event. But as a Foreign Ministry spokesman put it, both Sweden's decision and its strange denial of the obvious are "insulting and unacceptable."
The Swedes, indeed, did not mention Israel by name in announcing their withdrawal from the exercise. Swedish Defense Minister Leni Bjorklund, however, 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." That country has a name. It's Israel.
In case any confusion remained regarding which country Sweden intended to snub, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson told reporters in Stockholm Thursday that Sweden withdrew from the "Volcanex 2006" exercise in Italy because "We are careful about joining exercises with countries that we won't cooperate with in international missions under UN or EU mandates. That's our principle ... that's our history. The Israelis have another, more warlike, history, which I find regrettable for that matter."
We do, come to think of it, have a "more warlike" history, and we too find it regrettable. We regret that in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 Israel was compelled to fight wars against the Arab armies poised to wipe us off the map. We regret that Iranian leaders and the Hamas movement Iran continues to fund remain openly dedicated to this same cause, the destruction of Israel.
We also regret that immediately after Israel formally offered, in 2000, to create a Palestinian state in more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian's launched a wave of suicide bombing that took over 1,000 Israeli lives and has not fully concluded to this day. Moreover, in the wake of Hamas's election victory, terrorist attacks are on the rise again, and formally justified as "natural and understandable" by Hamas officials.
This sequence of events, we can wholeheartedly agree with our Swedish friends, is both warlike and regrettable. But by what logic should it lead to boycotting Israel and welcoming Hamas officials, as Sweden has done? Sweden's new foreign minister, Jan Eliasson said, "There is no reason to dramatize this. It has nothing to do with our relationship to Israel that we want to protect and promote. It is a purely practical judgment based on the exercise needs we have."
It is unclear why the judgment and "exercise needs" of France, UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Spain - all members the European Air Group that organized Volcanex 2006 - seem so different than those of Sweden. Even more mysterious is the nature of the relationship with Israel that Sweden seeks to "protect and promote." Israel is a peace-seeking democracy that is under attack. We don't appreciate it when countries boycott us and welcome our attackers, as Sweden has done by granting visas - contrary to European policy - to Hamas officials.
"If a country believes that Israel is not good enough to participate in peacekeeping maneuvers, Israel will be entitled to think that that country is not qualified to play a role in the Middle East peace process," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. This is certainly the case.
It is unfortunate that Sweden has shown such a gross inability to understand Israel's position that - in the name of promoting peace, of all things - it has removed itself from any constructive role in such a quest. Far from advancing peace, Sweden's extreme positions, however inadvertently, encourage terrorism against Israel, resulting in the deaths of more Israelis and Palestinians.