Conventional wisdom has it that Norway has “always” been a good ally to Israel, that Norwegian criticism of the Jewish state must be seen as good advice between friends, and that Israeli rejection of said criticism is: a) sulky and brattish b) tear down the wall c) free Palestine d) I rest my case.
Now certainly there has been a lot of popular support for Israel in Norway, this much is true. But if we limit ourselves to the study of the nuts-and-bolts of real politics, we see few traces of this golden era of friendship.
Both in 1972 and 1978-79, Norway was requested to guarantee oil supplies to Israel, should that country be face an embargo from its neighboring states. The request was especially urgent on the second occasion, when Israel was ceding oil-fields to Egypt in pulling out of the Sinai. As the paragraphs below indicate, Norwegian foreign policy towards the Israel/arab conflict was fashioned out of pragmatism, driven by a healthy fear of arab repurcussions as much as an equally healthy hunger for commercial gain. Unauthorized translation from Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Historie, vol.6: “Oljealder 1965-1995“, Rolf Tamnes, Universitetsforlaget, page 198:
The Norwegian answer (to the request of guaranteeing oil supply) was in practice negative. Norwegian authorities did not dispose sufficient oil, it was claimed. Israel also fell outside of what was termed natural markets. Moreover if Norway helped Israel, other countries would in teamwork with their Norwegian friendship-associations expect to be treated in the same generous manner. An important reason was also a widespread fear of arab counter measures. There could be implemented terror measures against Norwegian soil or against the Norwegian UN forces in south-Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Export Council and the Shipowners Association warned of boycott actions and loss of markets. The government concluded on this foundation that Norway was set to assist, but within the frames of a broad international arrangement.
The Israel-case contributed to entrench the commerical principle in the Norwegian decision-making milieu. “
We see other examples of Norway’s pragmatic perspective on Israel in 1960, when Norway turned down an Israeli offer of cooperation within the development aid sector. Historian Øystein Pharo writes that Norway turned the offer down for the following reasons:
For the first, such a connection could weaken the Nordic countries’ relations with the afro-asian group, which mainly stood in support of the Arab countries. For the second Israel was offering to assist in building up the merchant fleet of the recipient countries, which was not desirable from Norway’s side.
A more recent example is found in foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s recent tour of the Middle East. For Israel he had only criticism, while he at the same time claimed that Israeli criticism of Norway was part of a smear-campaign. In the United Arab Emirates however, the Norwegian media could report that he had “opened doors for Statoil“.