WASHINGTON – Israel has received approval to participate in NATO activities in
2013 that had been held up amid tensions with Turkey, Israeli officials told The
The officials said the approval had come as Turkey’s
request that NATO station Patriot missile batteries along its border with Syria
was granted, leading them to assess that NATO was using the deployment as
leverage to induce Ankara to thaw its relations with Israel.
full NATO member, has been opposed to increasing Israel’s participation within
the military alliance as ties between the two countries deteriorated, according
to NATO officials.
Israel is a NATO partner and has accordingly
participated in seminars, exercises and training as part of that status. But
over the course of the past year, as new NATO activities were planned for
cooperating countries such as Israel, Turkey objected to their going forward,
according to Israeli sources.
NATO is a consensus-based organization
where any one of its 28 full members can veto a proposal, though often
opposition is conveyed through informal channels.
However, as Turkey’s
request for the Patriot systems was approved by NATO and deployment began, a
NATO work plan for 2013 that would include Israeli participation in a range of
courses and conferences went through.
Israeli officials don’t think the
timing was a coincidence.
“At the last minute – and I think it was
dependent on the Patriots – it was approved,” said one Israeli official,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said that NATO’s joint exercise
plans for 2013 had not yet been worked out apart from its activity in
Afghanistan, an operation in which Israel has never participated.
official, also speaking anonymously, didn’t address the specifics of the
arrangements with Israel or the decision to grant Turkey Patriot batteries but
said of Israel’s connecting them: “This is their assessment of how elements are
Turkish diplomatic sources told the Post that “Turkey’s position
did not change on this matter.”
The Israeli official stressed that the improvement at NATO “is not a total
solution” to the rupture with Ankara and its adverse impact on the role Israel
can play at the alliance.
Despite a slight easing of opposition to
certain types of Israeli participation in NATO, Israel doesn’t see Turkey as
having changed its overall policy toward the Jewish state. Israel hopes to
establish closer ties with NATO, but Jerusalem still believes Turkey would
continue to block such upgrades in its status.
The once close Turkish-
Israeli relationship, which began to strain after the Islamist AKP Party took
power in Ankara, fractured during the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010
that left several Turkish citizens dead after Israel Navy commandos boarded the
ship trying to break the Gaza blockade.
NATO officials have been pushing
for a reconciliation between the two important Mediterranean nations for the
benefit of the alliance.
“We have a lot of common interests with Israel,”
said another NATO official, pointing to the country’s expertise in
counterterrorism, cyber security, missile defense and more. Yet as “Turkey has
made no secret” of its opposition to upgrading Israeli involvement after the
break between the two countries, he said the issue ultimately needs to be
resolved at the country-tocountry level.
“We would like the issue to be
resolved sooner rather than later,” he said. “For the time being we’re trying to
find ways to keep the conversation going with Israel.”
Matthew Mark Horn,
a former Pentagon official who worked on NATO issues and started the NATO-Israel
program for the American Jewish Congress, said there’s frustration with Turkey
among NATO members for blocking Israeli participation, but there’s also respect
for Turkey given its important strategic and geographic position.
said Israel’s approval for participation in the 2013 work plan and other
traditional NATO activities was “an extremely positive sign” of an improvement
in Israel’s position.
But ultimately, Horn emphasized, Turkey and Israel
would have to fix their relationship in a bilateral rather than multilateral
“It is incumbent on both sides to sit down and to resolve any
differences,” he said.