Europe is straddling a line between what it wants to say and what it actually wants. The former is about opposing Israel, opposing the Trump administration, not alienating its own restive Arab populations, and not completely severing its relations with Iran and its jihadist proxies. The latter involves hoping Israel won’t pay too much attention to the former.
While U.S. President Donald Trump called both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rotation partner and Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, to congratulate them, French President Emmanuel Macron, welcomed the new government with his view that Jerusalem should “make it possible to decisively revive the Middle East peace process and to achieve a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, in accordance with internationally agreed parameters.”
The European Union also issued a statement, though not a unanimous statement (thank you, Austria and Hungary): “The two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the future capital for both States, is the only way to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the region … we note with grave concern the provision—to be submitted for approval by the Israeli cabinet—on the annexation of parts of occupied Palestinian territories. … We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory and would be, as such, contrary to International Law.”
Those are very specific demands to make of a sovereign country accountable to the voters who chose it in a democratic, open, multi-party election.
On the other hand, Europe wants to know what Israel knows and to do what Israel does. So much so that the president of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, invited invite Netanyahu to attend a leaders’ conference on handling the coronavirus pandemic.
It appears that Israel’s defense sector rapidly converted military assets into non-military assets during the upsurge in the virus.
The intelligence agency, Mossad, was responsible for acquiring medical equipment and protective gear for Israel during the pandemic. The Israeli military has even converted a special IDF lab for identifying the remains of fallen soldiers to process hundreds of COVID-19 test samples every day. Defense contractors in Israel that use advanced thermal sensors for weapons systems have begun making prototypes to test people’s temperatures for COVID-19. Rafael Industries developed its own in-person temperature sensor that has been used at multiple hospitals in the country. IAI and Elbit have developed new systems based on radar and camera sensors to take a patient’s vital signs remotely. IAI has begun testing a new short-wavelength ultraviolet system for cleaning the inside of the aircraft. Originally used to purify water, engineers attached a series of UV-C bulbs to a robot to create an autonomous vehicle. IAI says the system will purify the exteriors of soft fabrics.
It is much the same as when NATO and the European Union want the benefit of Israeli military and intelligence capabilities. In 2018, Israel and Europol signed an intelligence-sharing pact. Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol, said: “Today, I am signing the first ever Europol working arrangement between Europol and a non-E.U. country. These provisions were introduced last year in the Europol legislation. It is a major step forward in enhancing the relationship between Europol and Israel.”
Cooperation is in the areas of fraud, cybercrime and terrorism. And Israel has warned European countries of terror threats several times.
Security cooperation between the United States and Israel is an old story, but exercises with NATO countries both in Europe and in Israel have expanded in recent years. In 2018, Blue Flag exercises in Israel had participants from the United States, France, Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany and India. It was the first time French, German and Indian contingents. The idea of the Luftwaffe flying above Israel was startling in so many ways.
Naturally, a number of joint exercises have been canceled because of the coronavirus, including the German Armed Forces plan for “Multi-Lateral Cyber Defence Exercise 20“ (MLCD20) that was to have taken place in Germany in August with units from Austria and Switzerland. The U.S.-led “Rim of the Pacific” exercises will be curtailed but are still expected to take place in August. As happened the last time, in 2018, most of our South American and Asian friends (including Vietnam, oddly enough) and a great many of our European friends will be there. As will Israel.
Israel has, in fact, been a model international citizen.
Palestinian and Syrian civilians will tell you the story if given a (safe) chance. Harassed by countries that support its enemies—financially and in international fora—Israel continues to partner with the European Union and NATO for the greater good. In response to the invitation to the European Commission leaders’ conference, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would be happy to cooperate, contribute Israeli knowledge regarding the development of a vaccine and share insights on the steps needed to deal with the corona pandemic.
Which is as it should be.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.