NATO Colston 298.88.
(photo credit: NATO)
Israel moved a step closer towards joining global NATO missions after the IDF agreed to upgrade relations and joint military training and exercises to enhance interoperability with the western military alliance, Assistant NATO Sec.-Gen. John Colston told The Jerusalem Post .
In Tel Aviv last week as a guest of OC IDF Planning Division Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, Colston said Israel had agreed to "broaden operations" with NATO and to participate in the coming year in a wide range of exercises, as well as training regiments.
The aim, he said, was to add Israel to NATO's "operational capabilities concept" with the goal of creating better cooperation between the militaries - essentially a unified operational language - that would lay the groundwork for potential Israeli participation in NATO-led missions.
"The operational capabilities concept would enable Israeli units to work alongside forces from allies and other partner nations and benefit from mutual exercises and shared evaluation," explained Colston, who is responsible for defense policy and planning at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
"Participation in the operational capabilities concept will open up a broader range of participation and a deeper level of interoperability," he said.
The decision to upgrade relations with NATO and to participate in more exercises would create better cooperation between the IDF and the western militaries that are members of the alliance. It would also create a common operational language that could one day be used in any international operation involving the IDF.
During Colston's visit, he met with Nehushtan, outgoing Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and Col. (res.) Uri Na'aman, the Defense Ministry official responsible for Israel-NATO relations.
"We welcome very strongly the interest of a whole range of partner nations in participating in NATO-led operations around the world," he said. "There are currently seven to eight thousand troops from non-NATO nations participating in missions and further such contributions are always welcome."
While hailing Colston's visit as positive and fruitful, Israeli defense sources said the IDF was still a long way from sending troops to NATO missions such as Kosovo or Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Israel does plan to send a naval intelligence officer to participate in NATO's Active Endeavor anti-terror operation based in Naples. NATO launched Operation Active Endeavor in the wake of 9/11 and has succeeded in bringing together a number of countries from the Mediterranean, which sit together in Naples and share information concerning naval terror and suspicious ships in the region.
Colston revealed that Morocco and Algeria - like Israel, members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - were also seriously considering sending officers to the Naples-based project. If that happened, it would be the first time that Israeli, Algerian and Moroccan officers were cooperating at such a high level.
Colston's visit followed Israel's signing in November of an Individual Cooperation Program (ICP) with NATO. Colston said his visit was meant to "fill the ICP framework with practical cooperation."
Israel was the first Mediterranean Dialogue country to sign an ICP with NATO.
Other topics that came up during the talks had to do with intelligence sharing between the IDF and NATO. In January, Military Intelligence hosted a group of 50 military officers from NATO countries and, in an effort to create better interoperability between countries in the global war on terror, drafted plans to establish an intelligence-sharing mechanism with the Western military alliance. Colston said that since the seminar, Israel and NATO have upgraded their level of cooperation and sharing of intelligence.
Colston also discussed the challenges NATO was facing in Afghanistan and particularly the threat of Improvised Roadside Devices (IED). He said Israel was a member of a NATO team that was working on finding solutions to deal with the threat.
"We agreed to share lessons from Afghanistan with Israel to gain and benefit from one another," he said.