Israel to Open Permanent Office at NATO HQ, Five Years After Turkey Blocked Move

By Herb Keinon

Jerusalem Post

May 4, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that Israel would open a permanent office at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Brussels headquarters, a move Turkey blocked some five years ago.

The move represents a significant upgrade for Israel's ties to the 28-nation alliance. Israel is currently a partner in NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, along with six other countries on the Mediterranean: Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Mauritania and Morocco.

In addition to Israel, Jordan was also invited to open a permanent mission at NATO Headquarters, as were three members of the treaty organization’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative: Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

“This is something we worked on for many years,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.  “I think this is important to Israel’s standing in the world.  The countries of the world want to cooperate with us because of our determined struggle against terrorism, because of our technological knowledge, our intelligence deployment and other reasons.”

Late Tuesday night the Foreign Ministry said that NATO  informed Israel that it would be able to open an office at the organization’s headquarters and complete the process of accepting the credentials of its representative to NATO.

“The announcement comes after lengthy Israeli diplomatic efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Security Agency. Israel wants to thank its allies in the organization for their support and efforts on the issue,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. According to government officials, the US, Canada and Germany were instrumental in moving the upgrade through.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold explained the significance of the move by saying that “anytime Israel becomes integrated into global alliance systems that is an asset to the security of the state. Our position is that Israel must defend itself by itself, but having strong allies who identify threats similar to the way we do is definitely important.”

In September 2011, then Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish media that his country had succeeded in blocking an Israeli attempt to open an office at the NATO headquarters.

“Israel recently made an attempt to open an office at NATO [headquarters] in Brussels. We said we would veto this attempt and the issue was not even put on the agenda,” he said at the time, when tension between Jerusalem and Ankara was at its fever pitch because of the Mavi Marmara incident that took place the previous year.

Because of the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey – a NATO member – blocked Israel's participation in various NATO meetings and maneuvers.  Nevertheless, Israel's cooperation with the western alliance did continue to develop, particularly in areas dealing with counter-terrorism.

One official warned against reading too much into Turkey not standing in the way this time of the upgrade, and extrapolating this to mean that the two countries were on the verge of signing a much discussed reconciliation agreement.  “This was a decision made by NATO as a whole,” the official said.

Decisions of this nature require consensus inside the organization, another official said. 

Netanyahu called the move an “important step” that will enhance Israel's security.

NATO's treaty obligates the member states to militarily defend one another in time of attack, but that does not extend to the alliance’s some 40 partner countries.

In practical terms, what the move means is that Israel will now have a permanent office in the NATO compound. The significance is that the country's representatives will be in closer contact on a regular basis with representatives from the NATO and NATO-partner states.

Israel  will be represented by it envoy to the European Union in Brussels, David Walzer.