Israel: NATO’s first non-European, non-North American member?
Ahead of a North American Treaty Organization summit to be held in Brussels this year the clamor for Israel to be admitted to the global military bloc, a position advocated for almost twenty years by newspapers of record, think tanks and assorted Western politicians, has intensified to an unparalleled level.
In recent weeks articles have appeared in news outlooks in the U.S. and Europe fairly unequivocally advocating full membership for the Jewish state, all more or less employing the same arguments, thereby indicating a coordinated campaign.
On February a somewhat clumsily-titled feature appeared in the Brussels Times under the byline of two of its major contributors, Alexandre Krauss and Nuno Wahnon, that was as direct a statement of the matter as could be made: Why Israel should be considered to join NATO.
The newspaper is the major English-language and presumably the main diplomatic one in Belgium, home of NATO civilian and military headquarters. The article, like two others that will be referenced, discusses the role of Israeli-Turkish relations as the main impediment to Israel being offered NATO membership – yet all three remain “optimistic” that that obstacle can be overcome.
The Brussels Times piece asks the embarrassingly tendentious question, “Why a quasi-autocratic ruled Turkey remains a NATO Member State while a value driven country like Israel is out?”
There are any number of valid, indeed obligatory, criticisms to be made against Turkey, especially its foreign policy other than its position vis-à-vis Israel: its military incursions into Syria and Iraq, its recent proxy war against Nagorno-Karabakh (Artakh) and Armenia, its ongoing proxy war in Libya, its threats against Cyprus and Greece, its ever-expanding pan-Turkic, neo-Ottoman designs that envision a Turkish sphere of influence from North Africa to China’s Xinjiang Province among other concerns. Domestically, though of course not noted by any of the contributors cited in this article, it is waging an ongoing war against members and supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and other Kurdish organizations, the longest counterinsurgency war in the world after the end of those in Colombia and Sri Lanka. And one that has spilled over into Syria and Iraq.
The above in no manner disturbs the Atlanticists and Israel lobbyists. In fact at the beginning of the year NATO handed command of its Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to Turkey.
The Brussels Times article – really, advocacy thesis and puff piece – points out that despite Turkish opposition to its NATO membership Israel opened a liaison office at NATO headquarters in 2016 and was granted yet another special cooperation program with the bloc.
Eleven years ago this author compiled an exhaustive chronology of NATO’s relations with Israel which included, inter alia, discussion of:
Israel being a founding member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue military partnership in 1994.
Israel contributing a missile ship to NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor, an Article 5 mission (see below), which conducted surveillance and interdiction efforts throughout the Mediterranean Sea. (It continues to participate in Active Endeavor’s successor, Operation Sea Guardian.)
In 2005 NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visiting Israel, the first NATO chief to do so.
In the same year NATO and Israel conducting their first-ever joint naval exercise, in the Red Sea, then Israel organizing three more military exercises with the bloc later that year, and the Israeli navy participating for the first time in a NATO submarine exercise in the Gulf of Taranto off the Italian coast, and Israeli ground troops participating in a NATO infantry exercise for the first time, a 22-nation training mission in Ukraine.
Israel being granted an Individual Cooperation Program with NATO in 2006.
In that year NATO deploying AWACs to Israel for a drill aimed at Iran and in the same year eight NATO warships docking in the Israeli port city of Haifa.
Also in 2006 Israel posting a liaison officer to the NATO Command in Naples.
And the list goes on almost indefinitely.
It needs to be mentioned that in terms of the Pentagon’s division of the world into regional military commands, Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation not to be assigned to Central Command as it is the only non-European country to fall under the aegis of European Command. European Command and NATO, advancing simultaneously to encompass all of Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc in 1991 and NATO expansion to the east since 1999, have areas of responsibility that are largely coterminous; they share a common military commander. Israel is the only state of the 51 nations included in European Command’s area of responsibility that is not in Europe.
So there is a long-standing history behind the current push for Israel’s NATO membership.
The Brussels Times article attempts just that by stating “new developments in foreign policy dynamics in NATO neighbourhood could also justify new memberships.” The newspaper, of course, has one nation in particular in mind.
But it also holds out the prospect of Tel Aviv serving as the centerpiece of NATO expansion throughout the Middle East:
“The recent Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries could also trigger the idea that in admitting the State of Israel, NATO would be playing globally, on one hand, and on the other hand, open the doors to further members around the World.”
NATO, which has recently inducted Colombia into its aptly-named Partners Across the Globe (thereby joining Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea to date), surely covets the nations of the Middle East, especially those in the Persian Gulf, as future members.
In terms of what Israel would offer the alliance, the Belgian paper says:
“Israel military capabilities would fit perfectly the present and future needs of the Alliance. The military quality hardware, technology or intelligence would enhance NATO’s existing capabilities. In a moment where NATO’s budget burned share is at the centre of many debates, Israel’s military budget is near the singular value of 4.5% GDP.”
NATO in return would provide Article 5 collective military assistance to Israel. The article spells out what truly doesn’t need to be spelled out:
“One of the core, if not the main, debates about an Israel NATO membership, will always be focus on NATO’s Article 5 (collective defence) activation over a potential attack from Iran or any of Iran’s proxies, such as the Hezbollah….”
The feature ends with the phrase attentive readers had anticipated since the first paragraph; to wit, “it is time to start building on Israel’s full membership to NATO.”
Two weeks earlier the Jewish News Syndicate ran an article by a fellow at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an Israeli think tank funded by NATO’s Mediterranean Initiative, titled “NATO 2030 and Israel.”
It contains these observations:
“NATO’s strategy vis-à-vis the South has been facilitated by instruments like the Mediterranean Dialogue, which was launched in 1994. Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia are engaging in discussions with the alliance to cement security in the Mediterranean. In 2017, NATO intensified its effort by establishing the Hub for the South in Naples, and the following year it announced a package to project stability.
“The NATO 2030: United for a New Era report envisages a holistic understanding of security for both the East and the South to address ‘the growing presence of Russia, and to a lesser extent, China.’
“In that regard, the role of Israel is highly significant. Cooperation ranges from cyber defense, efforts to counter the proliferation of missiles, and weapons of mass destruction and intelligence related to the fight against terrorism. A few weeks ago, Commander of NATO Maritime Command Vice Admiral Keith Blount said, ‘Israel has been an important partner to NATO for more than 20 years as well as an active member of [the] Mediterranean Dialogue.’”
The author employs the expression Southern Flank in regard to NATO, of which the Middle East and North Africa are only the nearest areas of interest for the global military bloc. He says that “the new political dynamics in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean will have to be carefully assessed by NATO if it is to promote a stable South in the coming years.”
Specifically, “The normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain creates new possibilities for the alliance’s engagement with the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
A point that was also highlighted by the Brussels Times authors cited previously.
The Begin-Sadat Center fellow discloses a far broader agenda, however:
“This is also true of NATO’s coordination with the African Union following the recognition of Israel by Sudan and Morocco. The Abraham Accords have the potential to usher in a new period that goes beyond benefits for the signatories themselves to the future interaction between NATO and regional organizations.”
NATO currently acknowledges having thirty members and forty partners throughout the world; with the addition of African nations not already in the Mediterranean Dialogue and with other not yet formally credentialed countries, NATO can claim over two-thirds of members of the United Nations as members and partners.
A week ago the world’s preeminent pro-NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council, published an advocacy piece called “The Biden administration can help mend ties between Turkey and Israel” by Gabriel Mitchell, director of external relations at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
As the title indicates, he as well as the entire chorus of this year’s advocates for Israel joining NATO focuses on the Israel-Turkey conflict, but hints to insiders that the friction between the two self-appointed policemen of the Middle East is not as substantive, and not as irreconcilable, as the press suggests it is.
For example, he states:
“Strong Israel-Turkey relations make sense. Historically, both countries have been important partners in the Western alliance. Turkey is an original NATO member and Israel’s special relationship with the US and European Union goes back decades. In the heyday of Israel-Turkey ties, joint military exercises and intelligence cooperation were commonplace. Israel and Turkey also have complementary economies and continue to enjoy upwards of $6 billion in bilateral trade. Turkey operates as a conduit for oil from Azerbaijan and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach the Israeli market. Throughout the Syrian civil war, Israel has functioned as a land bridge for Turkish ‘roll on roll off’ trucks delivering goods to Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula.”
Last autumn’s 45-day military onslaught by Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabakh, which Turkey supported and directed and which pitted those two nations, with a combined population of 95 million, against a defenseless nation of 145,000, is an example of the sort of Israeli-Turkish cooperation Mitchell is touting.
The prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that Israel provided almost two-thirds of all weapons sales to Azerbaijan during the year preceding the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. And despite complaints about those sales, Israel intensified the shipment of arms to Baku as the one-sided war raged, leading to Armenia recalling its ambassador to the nation. One report at the time contains the sentence, “Analysts say Jerusalem will likely honor billion-dollar agreement, despite Armenia’s complaints.”
With Turkey’s proxy war in the South Caucasus last year, NATO has now decisively and irrevocably entered territory of the former Soviet Union, with the full complicity of the Vladimir Putin government in Russia, which also blithely ignores Turkish military aggression and routine Israeli military attacks against its ally Syria even when Russian interests are compromised and Russian lives endangered. How far NATO influence extends seems almost unlimited.
It clearly extends as far as to have Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterate to President Donald Trump four years ago, “I told him that if Israel is worried about its security, I propose bringing US-led NATO troops to Palestine to protect Israel’s and our security.”
Israeli membership in NATO, with the rest of the Middle East and with Africa to follow, would expand that influence to a dramatically unprecedented degree. Indeed, there would be little left of the world outside its domain.