Israel & NATO

by Gedalyah Reback

Support Growing for Idea

According to a poll conducted by Jerusalem-based KEEVOON Research, Israelis would generally support joining NATO (54%), and by a wider margin support joining the European Union (69%). There are major differences between the two and particular reasons why there is such a wide differential in support.

Advocates from the right wing, like Daniel Pipes, have generally smiled on the idea. But the gesture has much, MUCH, wider support than people may realize. Diplomats in Europe have been vocal the last several years, plus European governments. These are just a few of the deeply reasoned articles that have pushed Israel’s joining the military alliance.

In fact, the support for the move jumped suddenly after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as Iranian president. Simply, a threatened NATO member would be backed by the might of a 28-member military alliance that included the United States, Turkey and all the major Western European countries. Considering NATO’s declaration in 2001 that the September 11th attacks constituted an attack on the entire alliance, precedent is already in place to consider terrorist attacks as military aggression. Hezbollah and Hamas would be frozen strategically.

Drawbacks

But the obvious drawbacks would be the need to limit Israel’s offensive liberties at war. As regularly as Israel has had to go to war (three times in less than three years), Israel would have to exert an effort beyond any other country in the world to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties, otherwise risk weakening the alliance.

It might be used as an incentive to make a peace deal. But again this brings on the classic issues of hastey, unsubstantial accords that would break down like the Oslo agreements did in 2000. But joining a military alliance would partially necessitate Israel maintains its military strength, not reduces it.

Benefits

On the flip side, recent agreements between Israel and NATO might mean Israel would not have to make its joining depedendent on a quick peace deal. Entrance into NATO would allow the Israeli military more freedom of movement in the Mediterranean Sea and, for that matter, the Indian Ocean. It would be a strong deterrent if they were to join the alliance prior to a peace deal.

Israel and NATO have formally signed and implemented agreements to share intelligence and conduct joint exercises since this past December. Lobbying by the Israelis and an innumerable amount of Jewish and non-Jewish advocates abroad, in the US and Europe, has been strong since the aforementioned Iranian president’s election.

The major opposition to joining would probably come from Turkey, but the country already has a working military relationship with Israel. That relationship has even survived the second Gaza War. Israel and Turkey are holding more joint exercises soon.

Domestic Affairs

Joining the alliance would silence many isolationists and mutually empower those in favor of expanding Israel’s international relationships, plus activists for stronger social integration. Improving Israeli Arabs’ place in society with renewed socioeconomic and political attention would be a start, and would lead to a strong social core if Arabs can find themselves a place in a culturally Jewish country. So regardless of what deals the Israeli government does or does not make with the Palestinian Authority, there should be some benefit to domestic Jewish-Arab communal affairs.

Of course, opposition from the Israeli left might be stronger if it seems a NATO shield is being enveloped around Israeli military maneuvers in the West Bank and Gaza – not a major sticking point for Israeli Jews but certainly for Israeli Arabs. This again points to balancing military activity, which might be an impossibly vague requirement by some members of NATO in order to get full membership.

Like I said, there is a definite difference to the European Union idea, and I’ll give some attention to that in the next few days.

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