Ex-Israeli officials: Why would we expect NATO to help us in an Iran war?

Alliance head saying NATO won’t provide assistance to a non-member is "strange," "unhelpful."

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June 4, 2018 00:58
3 minute read.
Ex-Israeli officials: Why would we expect NATO to help us in an Iran war?

An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots . (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s remark that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not come to Israel’s aid in a war with Iran is “strange” considering that Israel has never requested or expected this type of assistance, former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said on Sunday.

“I think this just proves the wisdom of Israel’s security doctrine for all these years: that Israel will defend itself by itself and not rely on any kind of external security umbrella,” Gold said.

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Stoltenberg was quoted during an interview on Saturday with Der Spiegel as saying that “the security guarantee [of NATO] does not apply to Israel” since it is not a member of the 29-country alliance.

Gold, the head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that Stoltenberg’s comments were “unhelpful” since they “feed into Israel’s suspicion that you cannot rely on the outside world in any way. In any event, we never thought that we could, which is why we always thought that we have to have the ability to defend ourselves by ourselves.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg enters the new NATO headquarters building in Brussels, Belgium, May 7, 2018 (FRANCOIS LENOIR / REUTERS)

Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Stoltenberg was doing nothing more than stating a fact.

“NATO is an alliance only committed to the defense of other members of the alliance when attacked,” he said, noting that Israel – though it has increasingly good relations with the organization – is not a member.



Moreover, he pointed out, decisions inside the treaty organization are made by consensus, and that it is clear that NATO-member Turkey “would not raise their hand in support of sending troops to defend us.”

Lerman, who formerly served as deputy national security adviser, said he didn’t really know what to make of the entire discourse on this issue, since Israel has never asked for NATO to come to its defense.

“Not only have we never asked NATO,” he said, “but our American allies have never been asked to defend us. They volunteered to do so in 1991 [during the first Gulf War], but that was because they did not want us to get involved.”

When Winston Churchill said in a famous radio address in February 1941 “Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job” – an appeal for military aid from the US – he did not mean it, Lerman said, as he clearly wanted the Americans to join the battle against the Nazis.

“But we mean it,” he stressed. “We never asked for anyone to defend us, this is essential to who we are.”

Stoltenberg’s comments were a “standard answer to a silly question,” Lerman said.

Lerman scoffed at the idea that the NATO chief’s statement would now whet the Iranian appetite for confrontation, knowing that a war with Israel would not bring any NATO intervention.

“The Iranians have just been treated to a demonstration of the depths of our intelligence penetration of things that matter to them,” Lerman said, in reference both to the Mossad’s coup of spiriting the Iranian nuclear archives out of the country, and the recent pounding Iranian positions took at the hands of the IAF inside Syria.

“Do they really want to tangle with us?” he asked. “I’m not just talking about the archive, but the level of pinpoint destruction of their capacities in Syria, which was also a demonstration of intelligence dominance – we know where they are, they don’t know where we are.”

“They fire blindly with essentially old weapons, and we hit them through the window of a building directly in their warehouses,” he said. “So do they really want to try it? And does NATO have anything to do with it? I doubt it.”

One senior diplomatic official pointed out that Israel holds Stoltenberg in the highest esteem, and views him as a serious professional and a friend of Israel.

The official added, however, that his answer to the Der Spiegel question was “clumsy,” and that rather than saying that NATO would not come to Israel’s aid in a war with Iran, he should have replied that the question is moot since Israel is not a member of the organization, nor has it ever asked or expected NATO to defend it.


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