NATO quietly developing closer strategic relations with Israel despite Turkey’s objections

By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch


Defense News reported on 15 April that Turkey has blocked Israel participating in a proposed meeting of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue group, which includes Israel and six Arab countries (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Algeria and Jordan). Egypt also objected to Israel’s participation in what would have been its first meeting for five years. A NATO official in Brussels declined to comment but the Atlantic Council reported that the Secretary General “was planning to invite the foreign ministers of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries on the sidelines of the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting scheduled for April 23”.

Turkey previously blocked Israel’s participation in NATO’s Chicago Summit in May 2012 and an invitation for Israel to have a permanent office at NATO HQ in Brussels. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on 13 April that Turkey will not re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel until the blockade on the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip is lifted. Israel has said that it has loosened restrictions and will continue to do so if this would help normalize relations with Turkey. The United States and NATO are attempting to broker a renewed relationship between Israel and Turkey.

In February, Turkey blocked an initiative from within NATO to start the process of building stronger ties with Israel. Prime Minister Erdogan told reporters during his flight to Budapest: “We, as Turkey, would stop wrong steps [in NATO]. Thus, we saw such steps toward Israel’s inclusion in NATO. We prevented that. We have our own red lines. For us, to be involved in NATO with Israel is never considerable. To be with such a cruel understanding would conflict with our structure, history and culture”.

Israel’s Deputy Head of the National Security Council, Eran Lerman, claimed that “Turkey continues to undermine Israel-NATO cooperation and Ankara should be clearly told this hurts the NATO Alliance” and that its “undermining of Israeli participation in NATO was to the alliance’s detriment”.

In October 2012, the Jerusalem Post claimed an exclusive in reporting that: “Turkey has torpedoed an Israeli plan to contribute an Israel Navy missile ship to a NATO mission in the Mediterranean Sea, in what would have been the first time Israel actively participated in one of the Western military alliance’s operations”. The Post gave further background detail:

In 2008, Israel sent a navy officer to sit at the operation’s headquarters in Naples and in late 2009, Defence Minister Ehud Barak submitted an official request to NATO to contribute a missile ship to the mission. In 2010, Israel and NATO signed an agreement that was supposed to pave the way for the ship’s participation. While Israel has participated in numerous NATO activities over the past decade, it has never sent troops or navy ships to play an operational role in the military alliance’s operations.

In December 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported that NATO officials were pushing for reconciliation between the two important Mediterranean nations for the benefit of the alliance. A NATO Official said: “We have a lot of common interests with Israel, pointing to the country’s expertise in counterterrorism, cyber security, missile defence and more. “We would like the issue to be resolved sooner rather than later”, he said. “For the time being we’re trying to find ways to keep the conversation going with Israel”.

Matthew Mark Horn, a former Pentagon official who worked on NATO issues and started the NATO-Israel programme for the American Jewish Congress, acknowledged that there is frustration with Turkey among NATO members for blocking Israeli participation, but also respect for Turkey given its important strategic and geographic position. Horn said Israel’s approval for participation in the 2013 work plan and other traditional NATO activities was “an extremely positive sign” of an improvement in Israel’s position.

Israeli Defence officials stated that NATO and Israel were on the verge of signing a new cooperation agreement that would lead to a significant upgrade in relations. A senior government official said that the new agreement would enable Israel to participate in top NATO forums even though it is not a full-fledged member of the alliance.

NATO Watch reported on Israeli President Shimon Peres’s visit to Brussels on 7 March this year during which he said that Israel feels part of NATO, if not a member. It is believed that the new agreement referred to in December was signed and that Peres told Rasmussen that Israel would be happy to share knowledge and technology with NATO, as “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”.

Writing in Global Research, Professor Michel Chossudovsky suggests that, as Israel is already involved in covert operations and non-conventional warfare in liaison with the US and NATO, it is a ‘de facto’ member of the Alliance. He asserts that the Brussels meeting “deepens the Israel-NATO relationship beyond the so-called Mediterranean Dialogue”, adding that “the text of the Israel NATO agreement following discussions behind closed doors was not made public”.

Clearly, Secretary General Rasmussen needs to be more forthcoming on NATO’s strategic relationship with Israel and be asked about any documents signed by him and President Peres on behalf of the 28 independent Member States, at least one of which objects to deeper military contact with Israel. It is likely that there will be others with their own concerns about a closer strategic relationship with a state in conflict with its neighbours and in possession of an undeclared nuclear arsenal.