Israel quietly cultivating friends in the Balkans

Israel quietly cultivating friends in the Balkans | Ted Eytan

Events related to Israel in the Balkans go unnoticed, and no media fanfare or debate is raised on these, a report by the Economist said on Thursday, 22 March.

The source cites the the Israeli embassy in Belgrade as reporting that Israelis have invested or committed almost €1.8bn in Serbia since 2000. Their political consultants are often hired to advise the region’s parties during elections.

In a quick roundup on the Balkans region, the report said that in Macedonia an Israeli company now trains military helicopter pilots. In 2018, Israel hopes to clinch a deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to Croatia. In 2016 intelligence co-operation thwarted an attack on an Israel-Albania football match. Balkan countries almost certainly receive Israeli intelligence on their jihadists returning from Syria. The report further added that the number of Israelis coming to the region, mostly for long weekends in Belgrade, was up by 171% last year compared with 2016, in part because they no longer feel comfortable in Turkey.

Today also, not only is the site of the once famous and today forgotten Bitola Jewish cemetery now being restored and a new memorial built, but on March 11th a couple of thousand people, including Macedonian and Israeli ministers, marched through town to pay homage to the Macedonian Jews who were rounded up exactly 75 years earlier and sent to the death camp at Treblinka.

Moreover, it went on to say that the leaders of Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Albania have all been on official visits to Israel. Kosovo’s leaders have been lobbying Israel to recognize it.

According to Eliezer Papo of Ben Gurion University, academic co-operation, which used to be “non-existent”, has exploded.

 The source reported Papo as saying that “many western Balkan leaders think Israel is a place to politically emulate.”