The road to NATO

NATO membership will have a long-term beneficial effect on US-Israel relations.

NATO jaap de hoop 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
NATO jaap de hoop 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's road to NATO is long and hard but in view of its strategic importance it is worth trying to pursue it. A potential membership in the North Atlantic alliance is crucially important for the following reasons: • Such membership may decrease the willingness of potentially nuclear Arab and Muslim states to "wipe Israel off the map." Article 5 of NATO's founding Washington Treaty states that "an armed attack against one or more of them [member states] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." • As it is reasonable to assume that any claim to membership will not be considered without a parallel admission of an Arab state - Jordan? Morocco? Lebanon? Palestine? - such joint membership may lead to reduced tension between the two Middle Eastern member states, as indeed was the case between Turkey and Greece who in the past were on the brink of war. • NATO membership is conducive to enhancing Israel's integration into the European community and will have a long-range beneficial effect on US-Israel relations. • Last, but not least, such membership will decrease the psychological stress of being an isolated island in a sea of rejection and enmity. ISRAEL WILL have to face almost insurmountable obstacles: It will not become a member of NATO, and enjoy the protection granted by Article 5, without a peace deal with the Palestinians and without, as mentioned above, a corresponding membership by another Arab state, as former NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer explained. And there is a further obstacle. NATO membership and the duty of collective defense are limited to Europe and North America. Furthermore, such membership will - as things stand now - oblige Israel to enter into mutual consultations before it undertakes any substantive military action as well as to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) with all its attendant problems. However, it seems that considering the strategic benefits resulting from a NATO membership, these obstacles can be overcome or side-stepped: The duty to enter into consultation in the long run will not place upon Israel an impossible burden and, indeed, may have the advantage of preventing rash actions. As for the NPT obligation, the US has shown recently that it is ready to sign strategically important treaties with nuclear India, despite the fact that it has not signed the NPT. The limitation of membership to North American and European countries is a serious obstacle, but there is a growing feeling among NATO's top echelons that events - like the war in Afghanistan - have made this limitation irrelevant to present-day threats, and that a danger to the security of the member states may loom outside the North Atlantic region and may necessitate new rules for membership if NATO is to be effective in its antiterrorist campaign. Already in 1994, NATO expanded its ambit by initiating its "Partnership for Peace" (PfP) program, under which European nonmember states can cooperate with NATO. This partnership too is presently open to European states only, but NATO is engaged now in a redefinition of its global responsibilities and is conducting a comprehensive global threat assessment. THE ROAD to membership or even partnership is long and arduous, but cooperation with NATO can precede these steps. In this sphere, significant progress has been made recently: Despite Israel's worsening public image, it is participating in NATO's Operation Active Endeavor - a multination, multifaceted response to the terrorist threat. It has decided in principle to deploy a navy corvette to the operation, under the command of Vice Admiral Maurizio Gemignani, playing its part in "continuous watch and deterrent presence" in the eastern Mediterranean and an Israel Navy liaison officer is already based at the Naples headquarters. This, of course, is a minor sphere of cooperation (although it is the only NATO operation under Article 5) but, together with other contacts between NATO and Israeli bodies, such as the Atlantic Forum of Israel, it signifies that the long, hard road is not totally blocked. Needless to say, without improving relations between Israel and the US and Europe, without readiness to reach an understanding on the settlement freeze and the eviction of the illegal outposts, the road to NATO will be a nonstarter. Indeed, the government will soon have to decide whether to tackle Israel's real security risks or give in to a determined minority which seeks to impose on a passive majority a policy which will block the road to NATO. The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.