Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Israel In NATO?

David Schraub over at The Debate Link calls my attention to an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post claiming that the Israeli National Security Council is discussing how to get Israel accepted as a permanent member of NATO. According to the article:

In an effort to establish more effective deterrence in the face of Iran's race to obtain nuclear weapons, government ministries are, for the first time, working on drafting a position paper that will include guidelines and a strategy for turning Israel into a full-fledged member of NATO....

The paper is being drafted by an interministerial committee made up of representatives from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry and headed by the National Security Council. The committee plans to complete the paper by the end of February and present it to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for approval.
The possibility has a few early supporters mentioned in the article, including former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, ex-senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, and General Lord Charles Guthre, former chief of the UK Defense Staff.

David's post on this question asks some interesting questions and notes some possible problems:

For one, as the article notes, most NATO countries do not want to be locked into a strategic alliance with a country embroiled in so many tense (to say the least) situations with its neighbors. For two, it would obviously strain relations between the NATO bloc and the Islamic world. Unfortunate, and possibly worth biting, but still a real concern. The third issue, however, which I think might be overlooked, is how Israel's contribution to NATO might be severely circumscribed by geopolitical realities. The article questions whether Israel will want to contribute troops to foreign peacekeeping operations. That, by which I mean Israeli willingness, I don't see as a major problem. The issue is that many of the locations for peacekeeping won't be willing to accept Israeli contributions. Putting Israeli troops in a peacekeeping force in Darfur, for example, would be a colossal PR disaster and would immediately be seized upon by the government (who, if you recall, already blames the Jews) and would make the job that much tougher. There are plenty of areas in which an Israeli contribution, though materially useful, would be diplomatically suicidal, and that I feel would create a serious strain on the alliance.
Excellent points all. The third, which David identifies as perhaps the most problematic, I don't find as troubling. After all, US soldiers rarely get involved in peacekeeping for largely the same reasons that Israeli forces wouldn't: they would make too tempting of a target and cause too much political strain. The Europeans do most of the heavy lifting when NATO gets involved with peacekeeping, and I don't see why, if Israel was to join, that would need to change. If/when Israel's entry into NATO might inflame the Arab/Islamic states, but Turkey's membership should do a little to assuage that. Also, would it really be have that much worse of an effect than US-Israeli ties already do?

The original article mentions that the odds of Israel joining NATO before a resolution of the Palestinian issue are low, but to me that seems to have things backward. Israeli accession to NATO would go a long way to easing a lot of the security concerns felt by Israel, especially those posed by Iran and the proliferation problems there. If Israel no longer has to worry about dealing with Iran, if Israel is protected by the American nuclear umbrella and NATO's collective defense, Israel would no longer need to worry about its northern borders. The more secure Israel feels, the more it may be willing to make progress on a Palestinian homeland. Membership in NATO would also send a clear message to those who refuse to recognize Israel (i.e. Hamas) that striving for Israel's destruction is a fool's errand.

Of course, all of this speculation is merely that for now. It's hard to imagine any serious movement towards admitting Israel into NATO. But I do see it as a move worth making.

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