GENEVA (Feb. 2)
The disclosure that more than two years ago Israeli military pilots were invited here to train Swiss pilots to fly Mirage jet fighters has touched off a furor. The Defense Ministry held a press conference to deny charges that Switzerland’s traditional neutrality had been compromised and explained that the Israelis were called upon because of their long experience with the French-made aircraft.
According to the account published last week in the Zurich daily, Tagesanzeiger, the Israeli flight instructors flew Joint training missions with Swiss pilots in 1979 and 1980.
The Defense Ministry approved the arrangement but failed to inform the Foreign Ministry or the foreign affairs committee of Parliament. The matter was raised in Parliament where Socialist deputies demanded an end of any military links with Israel on grounds that Israel was technically in a state of war.
EXPLANATION BY SWISS OFFICIALS
The Defense Ministry explained at its press conference that Swiss instructors wanted to learn from the Israelis’ experience with Mirages and noted that Israel and Switzerland are similar topographically. Both countries are small with narrow air corridors. The Ministry stressed that Swiss pilots accompanied the Israelis on Mirage flights so there was no question of Israeli military flyers being allowed to roam Swiss air space alone.
The Defense Ministry emphasized that the quality of the Israeli instructors was the first consideration and this applied to its recent decision to purchase anti-tank missiles and other weapons from Israel. Switzerland wants the best armaments possible and the nationality of the seller is not relevant, the Ministry said.
Thirty Arab Ambassadors met in Bern Sunday, at the urging of the Iraqi Ambassador, to consider lodging a protest with the Swiss government against military cooperation with Israel. It is not likely to have much success as it comes two years after the event.