The Jerusalem Post
By HERB KEINON
Bucharest supports Israel in EU, int'l forums
The tragic crash Monday of the Yasour helicopter that killed six IAF servicemen and a Romanian soldier revealed to many Israelis something few were aware of: the closeness of Israeli-Romanian ties.
One senior Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that Romania, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, are the strongest friends Israel has in the European Union and on the Continent.
This friendship, the official said, is manifest not only in the country’s willingness to let the IAF train in Romanian skies, but also by diplomatic support Bucharest gives Israel in international forums and inside the EU institutions.
“Whenever there is an issue about us in the EU when there is not a consensus, Romania always sides with us,” the official said.
Romania’s president, prime minister and foreign minister all visited Israel last year, an expression of the close relations, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Bucharest in April.
Before that visit, Lieberman characterized the relationship between Israel and Romania as “special and strong,” and said Israel “remembered that Romania was the only one of the former Eastern bloc countries that did not cut off diplomatic ties after they were established in 1948.”
There are also strong economic ties, with hundreds of Israeli investors active in Romania.
Regarding the military ties, the IAF first began training over Romanian skies in 2004, and signed an agreement in 2006 allowing Israel to deploy fighter jets in Romania. The IAF sent jets to Romania in 2007.
Following Operation Cast Lead and the sharp deterioration in ties with Ankara, Israel began looking for other countries where its pilots could train, since it became obvious that the days of being able to fly in Turkish skies were numbered.
Indeed, after the Gaza flotilla incident, Turkey banned all Israeli military aircraft from its airspace.
It was widely believed, but never officially confirmed, that Israel was training over Romania, as well as in other countries in the region, such as Bulgaria.
“Romania is one of the countries that allows us to train,” one senior government official said Tuesday.
“This has been going on for many years, and there are many other countries that allow us to do so as well.”
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov avoided a direct answer last month when asked by The Jerusalem Post, during a visit, whether Israel had approached Sofia about conducting IAF exercises over Bulgaria to make up for Turkey’s refusal not to allow Israeli military planes in its airspace.
Mladenov said Bulgaria and Israel have “very good security and defense cooperation, and that an Israeli-Bulgarian defense cooperation memorandum was signed earlier this year.”
As to whether that memorandum included an agreement for IAF training in Bulgaria, he said, “I would imagine that it would include a lot of things.”