Israel's Claims of Sweden-Hamas Contacts Likely Unfounded

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu accused Swedish government of trying to reach out to the Palestinian group.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Sweden a few weeks ago of attempting to create contacts with Hamas. Apparently Netanyahu based his claims on incorrect information.

Senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz that in light of adamant Swedish denials from the foreign ministry in Stockholm and a demand for clarifications, Israel decided to examine the reliability of the information. The Prime Minister's Bureau refused to comment on the matter.

Two weeks ago during a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, Netanyahu strongly attacked the Swedish government, the present holder of the European Union presidency through the end of the year. Netanyahu said the Swedes were violating EU policy by trying to contact Hamas, which is banned by the EU as a terrorist organization.

Moratinos told Netanyahu at the time that Sweden could not possibly be doing such a thing, but promised to look into the matter. He spoke to his Swedish colleague, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who adamantly denied the accusation.

A few days later Haaretz published Netanyahu's accusation, and the news received large exposure in Sweden and Europe. In addition to the public denials, the Swedes asked for clarifications from Israel's ambassador in Stockholm, Benny Dagan, demanding to know what was the basis for Netanyahu's claims.

A senior Israeli source told Haaretz that if there was a mistake, it was made in good faith. Nonetheless, various bodies are blaming each other for the mistake. Some say the problem was inside the Prime Minister's Office, others say the Foreign Ministry was at fault, that the information came from the ministry. Foreign Ministry officials deny the information came from diplomatic sources.

Use of such information for diplomatic purposes is often acceptable, but its credibility should have been checked first, say the sources.

Monday, sources said Netanyahu's claim was really that junior officials in EU bodies are attempting to make contacts with Hamas under the inspiration of the Swedish EU presidency.

Israeli-Swedish relations have been strained as the result of the article published in Aftonbladet, Sweden's largest daily newspaper, alleging that the Israel Defense Forces stole and sold organs from Palestinians.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry refused an Israeli request to issue an official condemnation of the story, which led to a campaign of criticism of Sweden among senior Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.