NATO IDF drill 298.88.
(photo credit: Anna Brosh/IDF)
A desire to improve the ability of countries to work together in the war on international terrorism and in efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear power are what prompted NATO to upgrade Israel's status in the military alliance and to invite the Navy to participate, for the first time, in a joint exercise, a high-ranking Israeli Navy officer has told The Jerusalem Post.
Israelis have taken part in NATO exercises as observers, but not on a tactical level. On Monday, eight NATO warships docked in Haifa port, scheduled to remain in the country until Sunday. The goal of the visit is to familiarize Israel with NATO capabilities and to discuss the "Cooperation Mako" exercise that will take place in the Black Sea in June.
NATO, said Brig.-Gen. Yohai Ben-Yosef, commander of the Haifa Naval base, was interested in upgrading ties with Israel in face of the growing threat posed by terrorism, and perhaps also due to Teheran's determined race to obtain nuclear power.
"NATO extended its hand to us," Ben-Yosef told the Post. "Even though we are not members of NATO, they are interested in better cooperation with us and in learning from our experience fighting terror."
Ben-Yosef also said, "It could be that the Iranian threat is also playing a role here but I think it has more to do with the global war on terror."
Ben-Yosef said the question of whether Israel would become a full-fledged member of NATO was up to the political echelon. In the past, senior IDF officers have ruled out joining, saying that full membership would impair Israel's ability to operate independently.
According to Spanish Rear-Admiral Teodoro Lopez-Calderon - commander of the NATO force currently docked in Haifa - Israel was not invited to partake in the exercise because of its unique experience in combating terror but rather due to its membership in NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - a 10-year-old forum for political consultations and practical cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean area, including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan.
"The exercise is open to all Mediterranean Dialogue countries," Lopez-Calderon told the Post Wednesday. "The main reason is to create necessary and better interoperability the in the way NATO is utilized and to test communications and the necessary arrangements if, in the future, the different governments decide to participate in a joint military operation."
The Israeli Navy, Lopez-Calderon said, was unique in its level of professionalism, its experience and its advanced technology.