(photo credit: AP [file])
In a move that opens the door for North Atlantic Treaty Organization to be involved in security matters along Egypt's border with Gaza, the organization on Tuesday agreed to help Cairo with its border and security issues including terror.
NATO plans to do so by making Egypt the second only country in the region after Israel to be part of NATO's Individual Cooperation Program, which enhances the military ties through information sharing, consultation and joint cooperation in projects.
After Israel signed its agreement in 2006, it was invited to take part in some military exercises with NATO.
In lauding the newly elevated relationship with Egypt, Ambassador Martin Erdmann, the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, said the ICP agreement would "help frame NATO's cooperation with Egypt in a more perspective and strategic way."
NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels that the new agreement had "pragmatic and symbolic value" and speaks to "a deeper partnership" between Egypt and NATO.
"It won't be bad for Israel" and it would enhance regional security, he added.
But he poured cold water on the expectations of those in Israel, including Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who would like to see NATO send troops into the region to help out. Specifically, Lieberman would like to see NATO send troops into Gaza as well as help prevent weapons smuggling from Egypt into the Hamas-controlled area.
Appathurai, however, told reporters that NATO does not intend to send its military forces into the Middle East. No request has been made for NATO to enter Lebanon, Syria or Gaza, he added. Such a move would need the consent of all parties involved as well as the support of the United Nations and that was not realistic at this time, he said. "There are no formal or informal discussion in this building of a Gaza involvement," Appathurai said.
He was similarly pessimistic about the ability of Israel to join NATO. He sat flanked by a mural with flags from the 26 member countries, including the United States, Canada and 24 European countries including Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.
Israel has a "prominent profile" within NATO and is very important to the organization, Appathurai said.
At this time NATO is seriously debating expanding its membership to include Croatia, Albania and Macedonia.
But the discussion about Israeli membership "is not for today and not for tomorrow," Appathurai said. NATO's enlargement by statute is limited to Europe and North Atlantic countries, he added.
There are many other ways that Israel and NATO can work together, Appathurai suggested.
On the topic of Iran, he said that NATO had left the issue of preventing the pending nuclear threat from that country to the International Atomic Energy Association, the United Nations and the European Union.
Given that that the issue was being addressed by these other organizations, there is "no value added" for NATO to get involved.
NATO, however, was concerned by the presence of Iranian weapons in Afghanistan, he added.