Analysis: Ups and downs in Europe-Israel 2010 ties

Tougher Iran stance, harsh criticism of flotilla raid mark relationship; Europe’s tango with Israel will continue to be filled with rocky dance steps.

Angela Merkel 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Angela Merkel 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN – A snapshot of Europe- Israel relations in 2010 shows a mixture of highs, lows and explicit hostility toward the Jewish state.
First, the good news.
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) admitted Israel into its exclusive club of leading world economies. While three European countries – Switzerland, Norway and Ireland – in which anti-Israel sentiments can run high had been reluctant to green-light Israel’s entry into the club, they decided in September to join the unanimous vote of its 31 members to admit Israel.
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Membership will expand opportunities for foreign investors in Israel and help improve the country’s credit rating.
The European Union’s decision to implement a robust round of sanctions in October against Iran’s illicit nuclear program represent something of a sea change in Europe’s posture toward Iran. Israel had advocated hard-hitting sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy sector.
There are growing indications that Europe has awakened from its slumber and realizes that Iran is a threat not only to Israel, but to European security. The UK and France took the lead in convincing the EU that Iran needed to be disciplined. The crowning achievement of the EU sanctions is the prohibition of the sale of gas and oil technology to Teheran.
Dr. Diana Gregor, a political analyst and researcher with Réalité EU, an organization that tracks European- Iranian trade, e-mailed The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, saying that “France and Great Britain are the driving forces behind the effort to forcefully implement the Iran sanctions.”
Gregor, who has written extensively about Austrian-Iranian relations, said the leadership of France and Britain within the EU boded well for Iran-sanctions enforcement because, for example, countries such as Austria and Italy would be “considerably worse.”
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Gaps in the EU sanctions still need to be plugged, say observers. A telling example is Italy’s rising consumption of Iranian crude oil. Italy’s import of Iranian oil mushroomed by 90.8 percent during the first nine months of 2010. And the Swiss state-owned energy giant EGL has refused to terminate its estimated 18 billion-22b. euro gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company.
Banning the purchase of Iranian gas and crude oil would add a real bite to the EU sanctions.
According to a Post review of the new German-Iranian trade numbers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration has refused to clamp down on its flourishing business relationship with Teheran.
German exports to Iran climbed to 3,164,462b. euros between January and October 2010, compared to 3,012,653b. euros during the same period in 2009.
In what might mean a blow against European NGOs which fund efforts to delegitimize Israel, the new Dutch foreign minister, Uri Rosenthal, said he plans to delve into his government’s funding of the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada. The pro-Palestinian website compares Israel with the former apartheid regime in South Africa and uses Nazi references to describe Israel’s policies.
Rosenthal told the Post in November, “I will look into the matter personally.
If it appears that the government- subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”
The Dutch parliament has discussed tax-payer funding of Electronic Intifada, and a decision is expected in January.
Some of the lows on the report card of Europe-Israel relations in 2010 involved Europe’s response to Israel’s security measures and to the peace process.
The assassination of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which was attributed to Israeli intelligence agencies, prompted the UK and Ireland to expel Israeli diplomats because of the alleged use of doctored British and Irish passports in January’s targeted killing of Mabhouh.
While President Barack Obama dropped his demand that Israel suspend construction of apartment complexes in east Jerusalem and settlements in the disputed territories as a condition for new Israeli- Palestinian peace talks, the EU continues to make the freezing of Israeli construction the cornerstone of its foreign policy.
The outgoing year was marked by the rise of expressions of modern anti-Semitism and biased resolutions blasting Israel for its blockade of Gaza.
In a radio interview in September, former Belgian foreign minister and current European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht talked, in connection with Israel, about “the bestorganized lobby that exists there” [in the United States] and said, “There is, indeed, a religion, I can hardly describe it differently, among most Jews that they are right. So it is not easy to have a rational discussion with a moderate Jew about what is happening in the Middle East.”
According to European anti-Semitism experts, the term “lobby” is a code word used by those in Europe who engage in anti-Semitic conspiratorial thinking.
European countries, and the EU’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton, engaged in condemnations of Israel’s seizure of the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara, many of whose passengers had terrorist connections and murderous intentions toward the Israeli naval commandos who boarded the ship in May. German taxpayers funded MPs from the German Left Party, a hardcore anti- Zionist party, to travel on the Mavi Marmara.
In an interview with the Post in October, an Israeli diplomat who closely follows German-Israeli relations expressed enormous disappoint with the German parliament’s decision to unanimously condemn Israel for intercepting the Mavi Marmara.
The diplomat noted that Merkel is considered to be the most pro-Israel chancellor ever, and yet she seemed to remain indifferent to the desire of the members of her Christian Democratic Union to vote for the anti-Israeli resolution.
The diplomat noted that such a crass expression of bias toward Israel did not occur during the watch of the previous Social Democratic- Green Party coalition government.
The Vienna city council was the second legislative body in Europe to unanimously blast Israel’s reaction to the Gaza flotilla.
Both legislatures had failed to do their homework and exhaustively review the violent anti-Israeli motivations and actions of many of the Mavi Marmara’s passengers.
Europe’s tango with Israel will continue to be filled with rocky dance steps as the New Year enters.