Israel in NATO? Some Say It Should HappenBy Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
April 28, 2006
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The inclusion of Israel as a full member in NATO would strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's ability to combat Islamic fundamentalism and persuade Iran to back off from its nuclear pursuits, a former Spanish prime minister has said.
Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and Iran's nuclear development arguably are two
of the most pressing threats facing the Western world today.
Israel has been at the forefront of the war against terrorism for decades, and it is now foremost among the nations sounding an alarm about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Despite Israel's location in the Middle East, Israel has values, heritage and social practices in common with the West, and it also is fighting the same enemies as the West, said former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
"Israel is on the same side as Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Australia. We defend the same values against the same enemies," said Aznar, in an article published Thursday by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The article is based on a briefing Aznar gave last month.
While the threat of communism is gone, the new threat facing NATO is Islamic terrorism, said Aznar, who was prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004. He now heads the Foundation for Social Analysis and Study in Madrid. Israel also
has seen the Palestinian cause "dangerously overtaken by Islamic extremists," he said.
According to Aznar, NATO must refocus its efforts to defend the values of freedom, democracy and Western civilization against the new threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism.
"NATO is rethinking its relations with other countries," and it is open to the idea of having a "less Euro-centric character," said Tommy Steiner, who belongs to an independent, non-partisan group that encourages Israel's participation in the Atlantic community.
The U.S. and Britain have submitted a paper, which has not yet been published, on possible reforms to NATO. Leaks to the press have indicated that the reforms include taking a more "global approach," said Steiner.
Foreign ministers meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, this week began informal discussions on strengthening and expanding ties with non-member countries, which will be wrapped up at the NATO Summit in Latvia in
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that NATO would not become a global alliance but "an Alliance with global partners."
According to Aznar, The new mission of NATO should be, "to combat jihadism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction...If the Allies want to prevail collectively over the gathering threats, NATO must refocus itself on fighting terror, the major threat today. Indeed, this is an existential threat, if we bear in mind what Islamic terrorism plans for outsiders - 'the crusaders and infidels' -- and for Zionism, as well."
In order to accomplish this new mission, said Aznar, NATO should invite Japan, Australia and Israel to become full members. "Treating Israel as if it were not an integral part of the Western world is a big mistake that will affect our ability to prevail in this long war against jihadism," he said.
"The West cannot fight this radical tide without Israel. Israelis might decide
that for their own security they had better follow the traditional policy of relying just on themselves. But Islamic extremism is more a tsunami than a tide, and in front of this powerful force we better stand together," he said.
Aznar said NATO's "deterrent posture" would be strengthened if Iran "sees and feels that Israel is an integral part of the West."
Dr. John Hulsman and Dr. Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation also have argued for Israel's inclusion in NATO, viewing such a step as a major deterrent to Iran.
"Extending NATO membership to Israel could convince Iran's mullahs that developing a nuclear capability is not in their interest," Hulsman and Gardiner wrote in an article.
Israel meets the qualifications to be a full member of NATO because it is a democracy with a free market economy and can contribute to the common defense of NATO allies.
By extending the Western alliance's nuclear deterrent to
cover Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, NATO would be letting Tehran know that any attack on Israel -- whether nuclear, conventional or through its proxies like Hizballah --"would be met by a cataclysmic response from the West," they wrote.
"Israel's accession would leave the Mullahs with no illusions about the West's determination to respond to Iran's strategic threat to the region," they said. "Extended deterrence, with its proven track record in the Cold War, remains the last, best chance to get the Iranians to back down."
Proposals that Israel join NATO are "very positive," said Steiner in a telephone interview on Friday.
It testifies to the unique position that Israel holds as well as its improved international position, he said. "It coincides with Israel's strategic interests."
Former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said last year that Israel would "gain immensely" from closer ties with NATO and that Israel had a lot to offer in
Israel already is strengthening its ties with NATO. There is a "very high level of cooperation" going on between Israel and NATO, said Steiner. "It's not in the headlines...It's not very interesting. But it's very practically important."
Steiner estimated that within the next three years, Israel's status with NATO would be upgraded. Still, he said, Israel may never become a full member.
Israel has concerns about how such an alliance would affect its strategic maneuvering and about being under a join military command. He said he does not believe the NATO would ever extend guarantees to come and fight on Israel's behalf here.
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