On Tuesday night, the Swiss Foreign Ministry issued an unprecedented sharp statement against Israel.
The Swiss announced they had summoned the Israeli ambassador to Bern, Switzerland’s capital, in order to protest Israel’s response to the meeting of the Swiss president, Hans-Rudolf Merz, with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That meeting occurred at the beginning of the Durban II conference and on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, which happened Monday.
Israel’s diplomatic response to the meeting was expansive.
It included the recall of the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland for consultations in Jerusalem and sharply worded statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman condemning the meeting. The charge d’affaires of the Swiss Embassy in Israel was also summoned for a “meeting of reprimand” at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
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In response, the Swiss Foreign Ministry issued a statement “condemning” the “exaggerated language” of Israeli representatives, since Switzerland had notified Israel about the planned meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad in advance.
Later on, the Swiss statement said Swiss officials were surprised by the “venomous” response by the high-ranking Israeli officials. They said the Swiss president condemned Holocaust denial and the Iranian president’s calls for the destruction of Israel during the meeting.
The Swiss response, which was transmitted in sharp diplomatic language, deepens the current crisis between Israel and Switzerland. The latter is one of the only countries in the world whose representatives meet regularly with the Iranian president, who is considered persona non grata in most Western countries. Moreover, less than a year ago, Switzerland’s energy company, EGL, signed a billion-euro contract for natural-gas supply from Iran.
Later in the day, after the harsh Swiss response was issued, the president of Switzerland tried to soften the impression that had been created in the wake of his meeting with the Mr. Ahmadinejad in an interview on Israel Radio.
His foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, continued along this line, saying, “I have a message for the Israelis; Switzerland is a good friend of Israel.”
However, she expressed amazement over Israel’s sharp response, calling Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments unacceptable.
“I know many people who suffered. We gave advance notice to the Israeli ambassador in Switzerland of the planned meeting, and we explained that the reason it was taking place was because we serve as a communications channel between Iran and the United States,” Ms. Calmy-Rey said.
In response to a question from Ma’ariv, Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey said she had met with the Iranian president in the past (wearing a veil) and said Switzerland did not sign the natural-gas contract.
This was not a government decision, but the act of a private company. It should be mentioned Ms. Calmy-Rey is the one who revealed the deal’s existence to the press during a visit to Iran. She also said then: This measure will diversify Switzerland’s energy sources.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com