Norway has sent naval cadets on a tour organized by the Israeli military.
A group of 13 from the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy visited the Middle East earlier this month.
Per Rostad, a spokesperson for the Norwegian navy, confirmed that the cadets’ visit took place in mid-February. However, he declined to comment on a press report suggesting that part of the trip was in Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank.
Many other incidents in the area have received far less attention or gone unreported. Since the 1994 massacre by US-born settler Baruch Goldstein in the Ibrahimi mosque, Israel has imposed a regime of severe restrictions on Palestinians from Hebron’s Old City and its environs.
BDS Norway – a group supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – has condemned the military visit.
“In the West Bank the Israeli army acts repressively and very aggressively,” Lars Gule, a spokesperson for BDS Norway, told the newspaper Vårt Land. “Is this what we want future Norwegian officers to learn?”
“It is absurd that the Norwegian military can in any way defend going to Israel to draw on Israeli military expertise,” said Tora Systad Tyssen from the Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine.
“By developing new military cooperation with Israel Norway is legitimizing [the Israeli military’s] conduct,” she told The Electronic Intifada.
The delegation of cadets is only the latest exchange between Norwegian and Israeli military personnel.
Eli Bar-On, a colonel and legal adviser in the Israeli military, visited the Norwegian Defense University College in February 2016 to lecture military lawyers on the Israeli army’s process for investigating violations of military law.
At the time, Lars Morten Bjørkholt, head of the Norwegian Military Prosecution Authority, defended the visit by saying that the Israeli military legal system was “well-tested” and “transparent.”
However, following the Israeli military offensive in 2014 that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published a detailed analysis determining that the Israeli government was incapable of effectively investigating its own forces.
One week after Bar-On’s visit, the Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine called for the end of all military cooperation with Israel, noting that Norwegian soldiers have also participated in NATO exercises that included Israeli forces.
In addition to military contacts, Norway’s right-wing government has been pursuing closer ties with Israel in other policy domains.
Loopholes in weapons ban
In September last year, Norway’s petroleum and energy minister led a delegation to Israel to discuss collaboration with Israel’s oil and gas extraction industry, which has operations in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
The student parliaments of two of Norway’s most prominent universities have recently passed resolutions calling for a boycott of such cooperation.
Just over a decade ago, Norway’s then finance minister Kristin Halvorsen, a member of the Socialist Left party, voiced support for a boycott of Israeli goods. However, this did not become the official policy of the government.
Several of Norway’s left-leaning parties continue to support some form of boycott and sanctions against Israel. And a number of local authorities have recently voted for boycotts of goods from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
National elections later this year may determine whether such initiatives will realign Norway’s policy toward Israel.
In the meantime, right-wing politicians are pressing for greater collaboration with Israel.
Jørund Rytman of the ultra-right Progress Party and leader of Israel’s Friends in Parliament recently told Vårt Land that “Israel has much to teach,” and has urged that Norwegian police should travel to Israel to discuss “terror questions.”
The Progress Party has also advocated lifting the ban on direct arms sales to Israel.
Norway officially bans direct weapons exports to Israel and other states engaged in armed conflict. Yet loopholes have allowed Nammo – a firm partly-owned by the Norwegian state – to continue supplying the Israeli military through its US-based subsidiary.