Airline Execs Fear Israel-Denmark Air Security Spat Will Spread Across EU

Dispute erupts over refusal to let Israeli security agents carry weapons and checks passengers.

The aviation-security dispute between Israel and Denmark, which has frozen flights between the two countries, could spread to other European countries, Israeli airline executives are warning.

The dispute erupted after the Danes refused to let Israeli security agents perform independent security checks on Israeli airline flights from Copenhagen to Israel recently. The Israelis were also not allowed to carry weapons. Israeli airline executives are concerned the ban could reach Israeli carriers flying from other European destinations.

airport - AP - May 4 2011

If other European countries adopt Denmark's approach, Israeli airlines could face limitations all over the continent.

As a result, Israeli airlines executives believe Israel's security demands should be rethought, and Israeli requirements should be adapted to local European law.

Security inspections by Israeli personnel are the norm at airports around the world on flights operated by Israeli airlines. But because of the spat, flights between Denmark and Israel have been canceled.

El Al charter subsidiary Sun D'or said it had canceled summer service on the Danish route that was due to begin in May and Arkia, which has service scheduled to begin on July 4, will not be taking off if the matter is not resolved. Air service between Denmark and Israel operated by the Danish airline Cimber Sterling, however, is operating normally, as the controversy only involves Israeli airlines, which have been served by Israeli security personnel.

At a meeting over the weekend with an Israeli Foreign Ministry official and an Israeli security officer based in Amsterdam who is responsible for the entire region, the Danes said continued acquiescence to security inspection by Israeli security personnel would have violated legislation in Denmark on freedom of occupation and human dignity.

Body searches

The Danes also complained about prior incidents in which Israeli security staff conducted body searches of passengers and gave particular scrutiny to travelers who aroused their suspicions.

The Danes did consent to have Israeli security staff present to observe the security checks on flights operated by Israeli carriers from Copenhagen to Tel Aviv, but did not agree to have the Israelis participate in the inspection process. Israeli security officials have said the Danish position is unacceptable.

"There is a dangerous precedent here," said Arkia CEO Gadi Tepper, "in that the State of Israel is allowing foreign carriers to operate in Israel while the foreign countries don't allow the Israeli side to operate because of the level of security. In my view, this will make other countries in Europe limit Israeli aviation activity on the rationale that it is a violation of human dignity."

There are conflicting interests at work in Israel over the matter, Tepper said, adding: "Transportation Minister [Yisrael Katz] is encouraging aviation operations on the part of Israeli carriers. Up to now, he has directed the head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Giora Rom, to demand reciprocity from the foreign countries, whether through aviation or security agreements."

The Shin Bet security service is demanding proper security arrangements but the Foreign Ministry's primary interest is to maintain proper diplomatic relations and to avoid disputes with other countries, Tepper said.

"All of them are right, but Israeli aviation will be annihilated," he said.

For its part, the Israeli Transportation Ministry said the Civil Aviation Authority would not bar Danish carriers from serving Israel.

Tepper cited an incident two weeks ago in which the Israeli Transportation Ministry pressured Italy by insisting that Italian carriers would not be allowed to fly to Israel via routes on which Israeli airlines don't get the security services they demand. In the end, Italy gave in, he said.

Sun D'or CEO Bezalel Karvat said when the dispute in Denmark surfaced, his company didn't wait and canceled its service to and from Copenhagen that had been planned to run from May 7 through October.