navy ship sunset 88.
(photo credit: )
In a move intended to further bolster ties between Israel and NATO, the IDF is putting search-and-rescue forces on standby so they can be immediately dispatched to participate in NATO global operations, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The IDF has formally informed NATO headquarters in Brussels that Home Front Command rescue teams are available if needed to serve as part of the Western military alliance.
According to Defense Ministry officials, Israel might also be willing to send field hospitals to NATO peacekeeping forces stationed around the world. It will not, for the time being, send troops to actively serve in the peacekeeping forces.
"We will eventually take an active role in peacekeeping missions," said a senior defense official involved in Israel-NATO relations. "We will help with humanitarian issues and, in the end, we are interested in better ties with NATO and we will participate."
The IDF has also decided to dispatch a high-ranking navy officer to Naples in the coming months, where he will participate in NATO's anti-terror Operation Active Endeavor. NATO launched the operation after 9/11 and has succeeded in bringing together a number of countries from the Mediterranean in Naples to share information concerning naval terror and suspicious ships in the region.
Meanwhile Thursday, officers from the navy's INS Eilat, a Sa'ar 5 class multi-mission missile ship, began making final preparations for an exercise scheduled to begin on Sunday off the coast of Romania in the Black Sea. Dubbed "Cooperation Mako," the exercise will mark the first time Israel actively participates in NATO military maneuvers. Israel has participated in NATO exercises, but only as an observer and not on a tactical level.
Israel was invited to participate in the exercise due to its membership in NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, a 10-year-old forum for political consultation and practical cooperation between countries of the Mediterranean area, including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan.
"NATO extended its hand to us," a high-ranking IDF officer told the Post this week. "Even though we are not members of NATO, they are interested in better cooperation with us. The aim is to create better interoperability between countries involved in the global war on terrorism."
The Iranian threat and Israel's vast experience in combating global terror have pushed Israel-NATO relations into a new era, officials said, stressing, however, that Jerusalem was still a long way from becoming a full-fledged member.
"The possibility of joining NATO is not even on our agenda," said a senior IDF officer, predicting that only after Israel and the Palestinians made peace would the possibility be seriously considered.