By Ron Prosor, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Published in the Jerusalem Post – February 24, 2005
The pioneers of Israel’s strategic doctrine were guided in many ways by the biblical notion of "a nation that stands alone." The trauma of the Holocaust – when the world stood by while six million Jews were murdered – rightly dictated a belief in self-reliance on issues pertaining to the security and existence of the Jewish state.
The evolution of the State of Israel, the wars it was forced to fight in the early decades of its short history and the strategic threats emanating from more distant enemies, particularly to the east, served largely to further internalize the doctrine of self-reliance.
This doctrine has served as a catalyst for many of Israel’s significant achievements, which have allowed it to reach a prominence and stature which belie its geography, demography and scarcity of natural resources.
Today Israel is recognized as a world leader in innovative agriculture (as part of the need for food security); Israel has been at the forefront of nations in developing alternative sources of energy (lack of oil); the IDF has become world-renowned for its cutting-edge technology, tactical innovation and precise execution of missions; and Israel’s defense and other hi-tech industries have rightly been recognized worldwide for their abilities to contribute to such achievements.
Of course, in the modern age no state is truly self-reliant, and Israel is no exception.
Israel’s ability to defend itself has been buttressed for many years by our strategic relationship with the United States, which remains a cornerstone of Israel’s defense and foreign policy. At the same time other changes are taking place, opening Israel to the world and the world to Israel.
Globalization in general, and the frenetic pace of the information revolution in particular, have brought foreign investment, trade and global business partnerships which have seen Israel’s economy integrate into the world market at a rate unimaginable even 20 years ago. The skills Israel has developed to look after itself are proving to be catalysts also for its greater engagement with others.
Even in the political sphere, our strategic partnership with the US is today being complemented by our closer ties with the ever-widening European Union – as exemplified in the recent EU-Israel Action Plan within the European Neighborhood Policy initiative – and other countries of strategic significance including Turkey and India.
At the end of the day these changes are leading Israel gradually but inexorably along the path well-trodden by others, where self-reliance is consciously diluted in exchange for the very tangible strategic and economic gains of greater coordination with others and membership in regional alliances and groupings.
This process is reflected in Israel’s growing ties with NATO.
Over the last decade, Israel, together with six other countries from the Middle East and North Africa has been a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. Our contacts and cooperation during this period, though limited, have enabled both sides to learn more about one another and to probe the possibilities of closer mutually beneficial cooperation in the future. During this time it has also become apparent to both sides that Israel, uniquely among the partners, meets all the benchmarks of NATO membership.
This relationship has developed at a time when NATO itself is undergoing its own process of self-evaluation. The conclusion of the Cold War has forced NATO to look inward and reassess the threats and challenges it now faces. Indeed the end of the Cold War has led to the expansion of NATO to include 10 new member states, from the former Soviet bloc.
Two of the most prominent of NATO’s objectives – the fight against global terror and combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – are objectives that lie at the heart of Israel’s own strategic concerns. Furthermore, NATO in the post-Soviet era has extended its areas of operations southeastward to Afghanistan and Iraq.
In response to these shifting priorities NATO, in a milestone decision, agreed last June to launch what has come to be known as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, in which the Atlantic Alliance has committed itself to building more robust ties with the countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The motivation for this decision also stemmed from a realization among NATO member states of the challenges presented to them by developments in the Broader Middle East and the need to build closer ties with these nations and assist in efforts to promote reforms through dialogue and cooperation.
For Israel, these changes and the new opportunities they have created stipulate a close examination of the benefits of enhancing our ties with NATO.
Of course, it is clear that any move toward closer ties with NATO must not in any way replace Israel’s special ties with individual NATO-member states.
But on offer today are enhanced ties, including intelligence-sharing, military exercises, operational doctrines, logistics and support, and civil emergency response and training, fields of cooperation which offer tangible benefits in addressing threats, developing new markets for Israeli industry and a better understanding of our allies and their militaries.
WE ARE also reminded that NATO, as an alliance focused on security which includes among its members such close Israeli allies as the US, Canada and Turkey, is inherently a more balanced partner for Israel on issues linked to vital strategic interests.
The year 2005 can prove to be a watershed for Israel relations with NATO. This week NATO’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, visits Jerusalem as part of the effort to define an Action Plan for Israel-NATO relations over the coming years, which will reflect the common values and perceptions of the global arena.
When attempting to delineate the way ahead, it must be remembered that, at its core, NATO and its members (some of which are far from military powerhouses) share a political commitment to mutual security and defense. This notion was most recently apparent in the enactment of Article 5 – the mutual defense clause – in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings of September 11, 2001 and the commitment of NATO assets for the defense of Turkey during the War in Iraq in 2003.
NATO membership is not on the table at the moment. What we are looking at is an enhanced partnership. Developing these ties, over time and in a systematic fashion, while at the same time integrating them with other developments in our international relations, may bring us in the long run toward the threshold of a "mutual commitment" of NATO partners to the safety and security of Israel.
This would represent a significant evolution from the mindset of "the nation that stands alone" to a new mindset of "it is not good that a man should be alone."