Slovak Army soldier stands guard near a NATO's symbol during a ceremony in Slovakia's capital Bratislava to mark the country's entrance to NATO, April 2, 2004..
(photo credit: REUTERS/PETR JOSEK)
The IDF hopes to see NATO ships alongside Israel Navy vessels helping to protect the eastern Mediterranean in the future, Lt.-Cmdr. Ortal told The Jerusalem Post last week.
As the liaison officer, Ortal represents Israel’s naval forces at NATO ’s Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM ) in London, the central command of all NATO maritime forces.
“The area of the eastern Mediterranean is becoming very attractive, especially in terms of the gas fields and the platforms there, which will be a strategic focus in terms of possible threats,” she said. “There is therefore shared interest in protecting this area.”
NATO has a “big interest in shared partnership” with Israel, a strategic partner in the region, she said.
“NATO would be very happy if Israeli ships joined NATO vessels because they know the professionalism and capabilities of the Israel Navy are very high,” Ortal said, adding that while NATO has “high standards, it wouldn’t be hard for them to accept Israeli vessels.”
Israel’s relationship with NATO is defined as a “partnership”; it is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue – a forum initiated in 1994 for political consultations and practical cooperation by six other non-NATO countries of the Mediterranean region: Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
One of the main goals of the Mediterranean Dialogue is to create a basis for dialogue and cooperation in the field of security and counterterrorism, but after the breakdown of ties with Turkey six years ago, Ankara exerted efforts to isolate Jerusalem from military cooperation with NATO .
Following the reconciliation between the two countries in June of last year, Ankara withdrew its longstanding veto against Jerusalem from being accepted as a partner nation to the organization.
Last January, Israel opened its first ever diplomatic mission to NATO headquarters along with several other countries belonging to the Istanbul Initiative, which is comprised of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE .
Israel to open permanent office at NATO HQ
In March, Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, was in Israel on an official visit and met with senior IDF officers, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, to discusses common challenges and regional developments.
In November of last year, NATO launched Operation Sea Guardian, its new maritime security mission in the central Mediterranean. According to Ortal, as part of the operation, “a few months ago Israel sent for the first time a liaison officer on board one of the NATO ships in the central Mediterranean Sea.”
As part of the ongoing collaboration, there is constant dialogue between the military branches and agencies and other organizations under NATO , with IDF representatives participating in exercises undertaken by the organization, Ortal said.
While relations between the two former allies remain strained as Ankara pivots toward Iran and Russia, last month Israel sent representatives to observe the NATO -sponsored submarine escape and rescue exercise, Dynamic Monarch, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off of Turkey’s Aksaz.
“Politics doesn’t really play a role here,” Ortal said. “There are Turkish officers that I work alongside who are very nice and we work well together.
But everything that is related to relations between Israel and Turkey takes place in [the NATO headquarters in] Brussels.”
Of all the nonmember countries with NATO delegates, only Israel has the status of liaison officer at MARCOM , Ortal noted, even though Egypt also has a strong navy.
“It’s very nice that we can have this sort of dialogue with other countries in the region,” she said.