President Shimon Peres’ plane was held over the Baltic Sea on Sunday as Swedish air authorities refused to grant the aircraft permission to enter its airspace, en route to an official visit in Norway. The President’s Office accused the Swedes of negligence, though senior officials in the Foreign Ministry say the issue was caused by the private company that made Peres’ travel arrangements. The plane was eventually rerouted via Danish airspace.
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Peres’ trip to Norway is the latest of a long, intensive series of official visits over recent few months. Over the past six weeks Peres has been to Austria and China, and is also scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., in late June.
Ahead of Peres’ trip to Norway, his office hired a private executive jet for the president through a company called Kishrey Teufa. The craft’s pilots prepared their route and sent the information electronically for approval from the proper authorities in the countries whose airspace Peres was meant to enter.
According to International Air Transport Association regulations, aircraft are not cleared to take off without the proper preflight approval.
In their permission requests, the pilots stated that the flight was carrying Peres on an official visit. The first problem came from Bulgaria, whose airspace Peres was meant to fly over en route to Norway. Authorities in Sofia were surprised that a request was being made on behalf of the Israeli president by a private company, and thus did not grant the necessary permission.
The Bulgarians demanded that an official request be made through the Israeli embassy, as is customary for official government flights. The Israeli embassy in Sofia contacted the Bulgarian authorities, and permission was eventually granted.
The other nations Peres was meant to fly over did not pose any additional problems.
On Sunday, however, Peres’ jet encountered a problem over the Baltic Sea, after leaving Polish airspace. Some 15 minutes before entering Swedish airspace, the pilot contacted the Swedish authorities and reported the craft’s arrival. The Swedes were surprised, told the pilot they had no knowledge of Peres’ flight and refused to grant clearance.
Unable to continue, the pilot notified Peres and his advisers. While circling over the Baltic, Efrat Duvdevani – the director general of the President’s Office – frantically called officials in Israel to try and resolve the problem. The Foreign Ministry was notified, and support was enlisted from Israel’s ambassador in Sweden, Isaac Bachman, as Peres’ craft continued to circle.
After many long minutes, attempts to gain permission to enter Swedish airspace failed. The pilots were forced to chart a new course, through Danish airspace, which drastically lengthened the flight, causing Peres to arrive 50 minutes late for his official reception at Oslo’s airport.
Officials within the Foreign Ministry who dealt with the issue said that, in general, official flights – as well as Israel Air Force flights that pass through foreign airspace – are coordinated by Israeli embassies in the relevant countries.
The officials noted that, in this case, the President’s Office chose to make all of the arrangements through a private company, rather than the Foreign Ministry. “They only thought to call us when the problems started,” added a Foreign Ministry official.
The President’s Office, however, is blaming the Swedish authorities for the problem. Presidential sources said the flight course had been approved by all the necessary parties, and that the Shin Bet security service checked the plane’s projected course and ensured that all necessary permissions had been received.
“It was a technical problem,” an official at the President’s Office said. “The Swedes immediately gave approval, but later revoked it for reasons unknown to us.”
The President’s Office added that Peres landed in Norway only 15 to 20 minutes late, not 50.