Turkey continues to undermine Israel-NATO cooperation and Ankara should be clearly told this hurts the NATO alliance and is no way for one of its members to act, deputy head of the National Security Council Eran Lerman said on Monday.

Lerman, speaking to the annual meeting in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that Ankara should be told that its undermining of Israeli participation in NATO was to the alliance’s detriment – rather than Israel’s – and that it was not proper for a member of the alliance to undermine the organization’s capacity.

Lerman noted that while the Israeli-Turkish storm “continues in the public domain, the economic relationship is better than ever, and there is a realization in Turkey that there are things in common.”

The NSC deputy head was also willing to publicly speak about the Kurds, something Israeli officials rarely do out of a concern of antagonizing the Turks.

Saying that Israel should not be “more Kurdish than the Kurds” and take a position on Kurdish sovereignty, Lerman nonetheless said that the Kurds “historically have been allies, and potentially can be building blocks for stability and well-being in the region.”

The Kurds have “done well” in the post-2003 period following the US invasion of Iraq, Lerman noted, and “it is in our interest [that] they continue to do well.”

Asked whether he believed the US should be supplying Egypt with fighter planes and tanks, Lerman said that at this point in time, Israel considers the Egyptian military an “important interlocutor.”

He alluded to Egypt’s role in securing the cease-fire with Gaza following Operation Pillar of Defense in November, and said this is “the longest cease-fire” Israel has had with Gaza.

While understanding the intensity of the debate in the US about whether to pay for Egyptian arms, Lerman said that “it is our judgment that in this period of history, the Egyptian military remains the repository of the historical memory [inside Egypt] that war is bad. Our relationship with it, and the US relationship with it, is useful to our long-term interests.”

Regarding the Palestinian track, Lerman – speaking just over a month before US President Barack Obama’s expected visit to the region on March 20 – said elliptically that “those who know the history of the last two years have a better understanding of what Israel was willing to do, and what the Palestinians were unwilling to do.”

He said that there was a serious effort a year ago in Jordan to restart the diplomatic track, and that “both the Americans and Jordanians know why it failed, and not for a lack of trying on our part. We are prepared to come to the table without preconditions anywhere, anytime.”

Lerman said that the Arab Spring and what happened to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak intimidated the Palestinian leadership “out of their wits.” He intimated that, now that the shock has begun to wear off, there may be more of a willingness on their side to negotiate.

Lerman disputed the notion that Jerusalem was not really interested in the idea of a Palestinian state, saying that Israel’s help in Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s bottom-up effort to build statehood institutions belied that misconception.

“If we wanted Fayyad to fail, he would have failed,” he said.

Lerman praised the Bulgarian government as “courageous” for resisting pressure and squarely placing responsibility for the July 2012 Burgas bombing on Hezbollah. He also commended the British and Dutch governments for supporting the placement of Hezbollah on the EU’s terrorist list.

Without mentioning the French by name, Lerman referred to arguments they have made that placing Hezbollah on the EU’s terrorist list would endanger French peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. This argument, he said, was a “sad comment on the utility of international forces.”

Lerman then cited a recent article by former statesmen José Maria Aznar from Spain and David Trimble from Northern Ireland, saying that if the result of having international troops stationed abroad was that they would become hostage to terrorists, perhaps they should not be there in the first place. •

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