(photo credit: NATO FILE PHOTO)
The British air-defense destroyer HMS Duncan and Spanish Navy frigate Victoria, on a NATO mission, docked in Haifa Port on Friday, ahead of joint exercises.
This is the first time that the Spanish frigate docked in an Israeli port, the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit said on Friday.
The vessels’ visit will include meetings between senior NATO officers and their Israeli counterparts, as well as a joint NATO-Israel naval exercise.
“The exercise underscores NATO’s commitment to the strategic relationship with the Israel Navy and to the maintenance of stability in the region,” the IDF said.
Israel’s relationship with NATO is defined as a “partnership,” and the country has been a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue since it was initiated in 1994, along with six other non-NATO Mediterranean countries: Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
One of the Mediterranean Dialogue’s main goals is to create a basis for dialogue and cooperation in the field of security and counterterrorism, but since the breakdown of Israel-Turkey ties six years ago, Ankara has worked to isolate Jerusalem from cooperation with NATO.
Following a reconciliation agreement between Turkey and Israel in June 2016, Ankara withdrew its longstanding veto against Israel being accepted as a partner nation to the organization, and Jerusalem opened its first ever diplomatic mission to NATO headquarters in Brussels, along with several other countries belonging to the Istanbul Initiative, which is composed of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
With Russia’s increasingly assertive maneuvers in the region, NATO’s strategic interest in the eastern Mediterranean is increasing, and in December the HMS Ocean helicopter carrier, the flagship of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, docked in Haifa Port and took part in several joint exercises with the Israel Navy and Israel Air Force.
The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various allied countries. The Standing NATO Maritime Groups help to establish a NATO presence, demonstrate solidarity and conduct routine diplomatic visits to various countries.
Royal Navy Cmdr. James Morley, commander of the NATO Standing Maritime Group, said, “There is a need to better understand the region and what is going on in the region,” adding that “there is no one better to do that with than the Israeli navy.”
In November 2016, NATO launched Operation Sea Guardian, a maritime security mission in the central Mediterranean, and Israel sent a liaison officer on board one of the NATO ships for the first time.
In March of last year Gen. Peter Pavel, current Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, was in Israel and met with senior IDF officers, including Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, to discuss common challenges and regional developments.