Strategists with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are eager to maintain the strong bonds they have developed with Israel in recent times, even though its forces last week attacked a ship flagged in Turkey, a steadfast member of the alliance.
Ever since its inception in 1949, NATO has legally been dedicated to the principle of mutual defence. According to this principle, an attack on any one country in the alliance is considered an attack on all of its member states.
Analysts readily concur that Israel posed a fundamental challenge to NATO by storming the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel participating in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine peace activists. But while Turkey’s government responded swiftly to the assault by convening an emergency meeting in NATO’s Brussels headquarters, Realpolitik has prevented Ankara from demanding a robust response from its allies.
NATO sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there are no discussions foreseen about whether it should review the basis of the cooperation arrangements made between it and Israel over the past few years.
In 2008, Israel’s then foreign minister Tzipi Livni secured an upgrade in the country’s relations with NATO. As part of an “individual cooperation programme”, Israel was given a higher level of access to the computer networks run by the alliance, as well as a greater role in sharing intelligence. It was formally accepted, too, that Israel should take part in some of NATO’s military missions.
Before last week’s attacks, NATO planners had been examining how Israel can be more involved in Operation Active Endeavour, under which ships in the Mediterranean are monitored to detect if they are carrying illegal weapons. One NATO source said that a “lot has been invested” in the past decade in building up closer links with Israel. Among the manifestations of such links were a 2007 exercise, in which six warships – hailing from Germany, Greece, Spain, Turkey and Italy – docked in the Red Sea port of Eilat for joint drills with the Israeli military.
Although top-level Turkish politicians have intimated that the damage caused to their bilateral ties with Israel by the flotilla massacre could be irreparable, a Turkish diplomat said “there is a chance” that Israel’s ties with NATO will remain sturdy.
“NATO finds Israel useful,” said Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a human rights organisation. “Israel has a tremendous role in patrolling the whole Mediterranean and in gathering intelligence.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, said Jun. 7 that he would be opposed to any reduction of contact between the alliance and Israel. According to Rasmussen, dialogue with Israel is necessary to help ensure peace in the Middle East. “We owe it to the Palestinian people and we owe it to all the people in the Middle East to facilitate the peace process,” he said.
He did not mention that Israel has become an important supplier of the high-tech weaponry – principally pilotless drones – use by the alliance in the war it is fighting in Afghanistan.
Rasmussen also spoke of his ambitions to develop a new missile defence system that, he claimed, would bring greater protection to the 900 million people living in the countries that comprise the alliance. His statement followed the publication of a strategic document by NATO last month, which indicated that Iran’s nuclear programme could present NATO with a major security threat within the coming 10 years. Also last month, a senior NATO official Alan Berry confirmed that the alliance had been examining how missile interceptors already developed in Israel could be incorporated into a NATO defence system.
In yet another development during May, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the allocation of 205 million dollars in finance for Israel’s Iron Dome project. Designed by the Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, the project is said to intercept short-range rockets.
John Jennings, a researcher on how Israel’s occupation of Palestine breaches international law, said there is a “parallel mentality” behind the deepening relationship with Israel and NATO, on one hand, and Israel and the European Union on the other. These moves are “going to be to the detriment of the Palestinians,” he added.
Despite identifying Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts as a threat, NATO has been silent about Israel’s own nuclear programme, with which it is widely believed to have developed up to 300 nuclear bombs. The programme has been developed in secret but a new book by the journalist Sasha Polakow-Suransky – “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with South Africa” – gives details of documents which appear to prove the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Jennings argued that NATO is “singing Israeli tunes” by issuing stern warnings against Iran. “Israel chose who the next enemy is,” he said. “Then the U.S. cottoned on to this, then the EU. Everything about this policy against Iran originally came from Israel. This obsession with Israel has gone too far.”
First published by Inter Press Service (www.ipsnews.net)