Monday, 8 April 2013
NATO and the Israel connection
Israel is, of course, fairly remote from any part of the north Atlantic, so it would be reasonable to wonder why it should have any sort of connection with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). But then NATO has itself travelled a fair distance since 1949 when, after much discussion and debate, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by ten western European nations plus the United States and Canada, with the aim of deterring Soviet aggression at the very start of the Cold War.
The kaleidoscope of political change in the past 65 years has radically altered NATO’s nature and scope. Two landmarks define these changes: the end of the Cold War, which rendered NATO’s defensive strategy against the Soviet Union obsolete, and the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US in 2001, which redefined the enemy and the nature of the battle and which, incidentally, shifted the focus of NATO’s attention from Europe to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and beyond − which is where Israel enters the picture.
NATO, which has on seven occasions added new members and now comprises 28 nations, has also broadened its operations to encompass both a “Partnership for Peace” programme with states of the former USSR, and also a number of “dialogue programs”. Among these is the Mediterranean Dialogue, set up in 1994 and intended to link Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia in security discussions.
Of course, this group of countries lacks any culture of cooperation in security matters, so the programme as such is pretty much a dead letter. Except that out of it, Israel alone has forged extremely close links with NATO. For example, recently Israel became the first country to conclude an individual cooperation programme. Through this it conducts an ongoing strategic dialogue with NATO covering, among other items, terrorism, intelligence sharing, nuclear proliferation, procurement and rescue operations. Israel is also a partner in NATO’s naval control system in the Mediterranean. By joining NATO forces in patrolling the Mediterranean. Israel contributes on a regular basis to Operation Active Endeavor, which was established after 9/11 and designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.
Given the close relationship that has developed between Israel and NATO, should Israel apply, or be invited, to join as a full member? The question has been raised on more than one occasion, and Avigdor Liberman, while he was Israel’s foreign minister, was convinced that joining NATO would act as a vital deterrent against Iran. But would membership be in Israel’s best interests? Israel’s defence doctrine has been always based on self-reliance and freedom of manoeuvre in security matters. Israel’s unwritten alliance with the United States is, perhaps, a more convenient alternative.
In any event, NATO’s “all for one, one for all” doctrine has acted against any attempt to pull Israel into full integration with the alliance. Other members − especially Turkey − have consistently blocked any such attempts, either on ideological grounds or because Article 5 of the NATO charter would oblige its members to fight for Israel if it were attacked by any of its many potential enemies.
All the same, despite the deterioration in Israel’s international standing in recent years, NATO and Israel have been strengthening their cooperation by leaps and bounds. For example, Israel has recently received approval to participate in NATO activities in 2013 that had been held up amid tensions with Turkey. The approval coincided with NATO agreeing Turkey’s request for Patriot missile batteries to be deployed along its border with Syria. It looks suspiciously as though NATO used this opportunity to induce Ankara to thaw its relations with Israel.
And now it seems as though the ties that bind NATO and Israel are to be strengthened even further. On 7 March 2013 NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Israel’s president Shimon Peres met at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss enhanced military cooperation focused on counter-terrorism − enhanced, that is, well beyond the so-called “Mediterranean Dialogue”.
Peres offered to assist NATO in counter-terrorism operations directed not only against Hezbollah and Iran, but against terrorism generally in the Middle East, stressing Israel’s ability to provide technological assistance based on the vast experience Israel had gained in the field of counter-terrorism.
“Israel will be happy to share the knowledge it has gained and its technological abilities with NATO,” Peres told Rasmussen. “Israel has experience in contending with complex situations, and we must strengthen the cooperation so we can fight global terror together and assist NATO with the complex threats it faces including in Afghanistan.”
Their joint statement points to an Israel-NATO partnership “in the fight against terror and the search for peace in the Middle East and the world. Israel and NATO are partners in the fight against terror.”
What this undoubtedly suggests is the participation of Israel in active theatre warfare alongside NATO. In other words, in all but name Israel looks set to become a de facto member of the Atlantic Alliance − a win-win situation both for NATO and for Israel.
Published in the Eurasia Review, 7 April 2013:
Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line edition, 5 June 2013