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Opinion: New horizons for Nordic-Israeli co-operation

In recent years, the open conflict in Europe has led to an in-depth assessment on the continent and immediate consequences felt in a renewed strategic preparation in the northern regions. The joining of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Alliance signals a change in the military thinking they have adhered to for decades, requiring them to recalibrate. The effect, which is apparently not direct, allows Israel to strengthen its security ties with them and satisfy their desire to thicken their defense capabilities in view of the fear of a confrontation with Russia and the possible use of Iranian aircraft against them.

The protracted war in Ukraine led to a sharp change in the foreign policy of the Western countries, including the Nordic countries. Finland and Sweden are becoming a significant geopolitical region in the rivalry between the West and Russia. The new Nordic members in the NATO alliance are expected to challenge their military thinking in the coming years and to this is added the Russian ambition to challenge the West and the Baltic region. Finland and Sweden are mainly afraid of a limited war that would spill over into the Baltic states and could lead to attacks on the northern flank as legitimate targets. Even before the start of the war in Ukraine, the Russians conducted exercises in the Barents Sea and Norwegian intelligence revealed mock attacks by Russia against military bases with SU-24 Fencer bombers on strategic areas.

Finland and Sweden are well aware of Russia's military capabilities and have tried in the past to reach unofficial arrangements with it, especially due to the movement of Russian submarines and aircraft operating in their vicinity. Following the war in Ukraine, the two countries fundamentally changed their policy towards Russia and their expected contribution to the North Atlantic Wing will focus on intelligence assessments and the deployment of troops in the border areas. In Finland and Sweden, where conservative governments rule, discussions on the deployment of naval mines, along with the use of sensors and "softer" communication systems that would enable a highly visible return to NATO, but without leading the Russians to take painful countermeasures, came up on the political agenda. Sweden and Finland have a skilled fleet, but it is too small to handle all the tasks that will be assigned to it in wartime, and therefore is not necessarily suitable as a tool for effective deterrence. Estimates are that Finland is expected to contribute to increasing its land forces on the border shared with Russia, Sweden will work to increase its naval fleet, and Norway will increase its presence in the Arctic region. Last year, Denmark approved the presence of American military forces on its territory (in addition to the existing presence in the Faroe Islands and Greenland), in a sharp change from a consistent policy that prevented this since World War II.

Security challenges in the Arctic and Baltic region

One of the main challenges for the Nordic countries will be the ability to increase their presence near the Russian fleet in the Baltic Sea and parts of the Arctic region. In April 2021, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia would continue to develop its military infrastructure in the Arctic region and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The region, which according to various estimates contains about thirty percent of the gas and 16 percent of all known oil resources on the globe, increases the importance of the North Pole for global energy requirements. The increasing competition in the Arctic region and the fear of an escalation in the Baltic Sea, set for the Nordic countries a common goal in the Arctic region alongside meeting the American goals. In June 2022, Denmark and the Faroe Islands agreed to install an early radar system and extended the ban on the entry of Russian vessels to ports in the Faroe Islands. Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and the USA issued a joint statement against Russia in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, calling it a serious obstacle to cooperation in the Arctic region. They refused to participate in Arctic Council meetings that Russia tried to lead, even though the Arctic Council's core efforts were aimed at overcoming political differences.

The geographic proximity of the Nordic countries to the Northern Fleet and Russia's nuclear arsenal on the Kola Peninsula are expected to make Finland, Sweden and Norway even more vulnerable, even if Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty grants them a clear security guarantee. Some of the concerns are based on analyst reports that indicate the strengthening of the Russian military presence at the Leningrad base on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in favor of military maneuvers against Estonia and Finland in the near future. The Nordic countries even observed tactical maneuvers by the Russian Air Force against a NATO naval force in the Norwegian Sea and against submarines in the White Sea. Maneuvers that led the Norwegian Minister of Defense to reaffirm the country's commitment to the buildup of military forces in Denmark, including the deployment of short-range air defense systems adapted to combat unmanned aircraft.

Informal arrangements and infrastructure

Apparently, neither side has an immediate interest in increasing tensions in Northern Europe, but activities and reactions that Russia may take over the next few years increase the risk of unexpected events. The transfer of Russian forces for training in the border areas with Finland is expected to be common in the coming years and require caution from accidental shooting incidents. Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish military aircraft conducting joint exercises will have to operate in close proximity to the Russian Air Force. Intelligence patrols can also exacerbate the tension in the airspace, since GPS signal disruptions have been observed that have affected air traffic in Norway. The Nordic countries are also cooperating with the Baltic countries and building a joint strategy to protect against the possibility of an immediate escalation in the Baltic region.

However, experience shows that the Nordic countries, including Finland and Sweden, do not rely only on an American defense umbrella or only on a Nordic-Baltic military alliance, but also promote secret communication channels with Russia. The challenge for Finland's and Sweden's militaries will be to maintain a higher presence without provoking Russian ire, so they are expected to maintain informal security coordination. So far, the Finnish experience shows that as long as the secret understandings are kept outside an official framework, military friction can be avoided, but this assessment is also expected to change since Finland has already experienced attacks on vital infrastructure. Starting in 2015, a Finnish company began a broad project to connect Europe and Asia using a submarine fiber optic cable on the seabed along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The initiative was taken by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications and carried out by a Finnish fiber infrastructure operator. Given the size and complexity of the project, the cable system was exclusively supplied by Russian suppliers and equipment manufacturers and recently they were damaged in mysterious ways.

Apart from this, there is a growing concern regarding the security of the vulnerable supply lines of the Norwegian gas rigs, some of which are located more than 120 km from the coast and are at significant risk of sabotage. After the government's commitment in Oslo to increase supplies to Germany and other countries, it seems that they must equip themselves with diverse means of observation and aircraft that can provide protection to the energy facilities in their territory.

The security relationship between Israel and the Nordic countries

From the Israeli point of view, the Nordic countries are expected to increase the purchase of Israeli weapons. Israel's military industries announced talks that took place in the past year with the Baltic and Nordic countries, including Sweden, Norway and Estonia, which showed interest in new purchases. According to the Stockholm-based SIPRI Institute, the Nordic countries increased their weapons purchases by hundreds of percent as the demand in Europe for anti-missile and drone defense systems increased and drove defense investments. About a quarter of the contracts signed between Israeli industries in the past year and foreign armies were for the purchase of aircraft for reconnaissance and attack purposes alongside the purchase of air defense systems. After Finland joined NATO, the country announced the purchase of the David Slingshot anti-missile defense system worth approximately 316 million euros. Finland and Sweden also announced the continuation of negotiations for the purchase of Israeli radars and in Sweden Elbit won a contract to supply ammunition to the M339 tank and other units in the Finnish army. In Denmark, about a year ago, they completed a deal with Elbit to supply cannons and rocket launchers to Denmark in the amount of 252 million dollars. Elbit also provides systems for data mining and defense efforts for the Swedish Navy. In this context, Sweden has a developed military industry through the giant Saab corporation, but it is still interested in Israeli systems. This is at the same time as the Swedish corporation's announcement about the sale of air defense systems to a Western European country and the government's agreement to sell a squadron of 'Griffin' fighter jets to Hungary and export weapons to Turkey in exchange for their agreement to accept it to NATO.

Components of weapons systems produced in Norway arrive in Israel through a third party, mainly from the USA. Although the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Aspen Aida, called on the European countries to examine the export of weapons to Israel due to the war, the Nordic country continues to sell weapons and future contacts for the purchase of defense systems developed in Israel. Last summer, the UVision company that manufactures the Hero-120 conducted a series of exercises for the aircraft in frozen areas where temperatures below twenty degrees were measured in order to test whether they could be used by the Nordic countries in the Arctic region.

Possibilities and consequences

The open conflict in Europe caused a thorough reassessment of the continent, especially in the northern regions. Finland and Sweden, traditionally neutral countries that joined the North Atlantic Alliance mark a significant change in their military strategy. This change expands the opportunity for Israel to strengthen its security ties with these countries, which seek to improve their defense capabilities amid concerns about a potential conflict with Russia. The evolving geopolitical landscape requires these countries to adapt to new challenges. Strengthening ties allows for greater adaptation and reactivity to emerging threats, and makes it possible to better deal with uncertainties in the international arena.

Military cooperation and transfer of defense measures:

Israel and the Nordic countries share a common concern about a possible conflict with Russia. By cooperating on security issues, they can face common challenges, share intelligence, establish ways of coping and strengthen their ability to navigate complex geopolitical scenarios. Strengthening the ties between Israel and the Nordic countries may involve military cooperation and the transfer of defense technologies that can deal with a potential transfer of Iranian drones near the border of the Nordic countries. Considering the discussions on the deployment of forces in border areas, the cooperation could include joint initiatives for means of observation in border areas. Using advanced sensor technologies, drones and intelligence gathering, the countries can improve surveillance in key border areas.

Cultivating a regional military alliance in Northern Europe (the Baltics with the Nordics) has the potential to deter potential aggression and create a safer environment, not only for the Nordic countries but also for the neighboring countries.

Alliances and political co-operations.

The ties with Finland and Sweden and the other Nordic countries may contribute to the creation of strategic alliances in the face of common security threats. Discussions of quiet means of communication point to a focus on non-confrontational methods that can play a role in conveying intent without escalating tensions, and provide a diplomatic alternative to a more overt military stance. This cooperation may expand beyond military aspects and include intelligence sharing, joint training and diplomatic support on the international stage. The co-operation presents diverse possibilities, from security cooperation to economic partnerships, which can contribute to security stability and diplomatic influence in the changing landscape of Europe and the Middle East. Close ties can also expand economic opportunities and joint research and development projects in addition to existing ones. The Nordic countries are recognized for their high expenditure on research and development, similar to Israel, and may lead to the establishment of mutual economic partnerships except in the field of defense.

Diplomatic leverage and economic opportunities:

Strengthening the ties between Israel and the Nordic countries can provide diplomatic leverage for all parties involved. Israel, by promoting its relations with Northern European countries, may find itself in a better position to navigate diplomatic challenges in the Middle East and beyond.


Written by Dr. Nir Levitan

Dr. Nir Levitan is a research fellow at the Europe Institute in Bar-Ilan and a fellow at the Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.

For more information, please contact:

Randy E. Spiegel, CEO

Canadian Friends of Bar-Ilan University




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