This is the first time that the head of NATO has visited Israel, reflecting the mutual goal to deepen our ongoing ties and to realize the great potential for cooperation between us.
It is my great pleasure to welcome NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to Israel. Mr. de Hoop Schafer is well-known as a good and longstanding friend of the State of Israel, and he has visited Israel many times.
But this is nevertheless an historic visit – because it is the first time that the head of the North Atlantic Treaty has visited our country. This visit reflects the mutual goal shared by Israel and NATO, to deepen our ongoing ties and to realize the great potential for cooperation which exists between us.
Israel and the countries of NATO share common democratic values and institutions, and we also face similar challenges and threats in the international arena – chief among them: global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have no doubt that Israel will gain immensely from closer ties with NATO, and we also believe that Israel has much to offer NATO in return. We also believe that greater engagement by NATO with the countries of the Middle East will enhance our effort to promote peaceful and normal contacts between Israel and our Arab neighbours, to the benefit of all.
In this context I called on the Director General today to promote greater regional cooperation within the NATO framework.
Today’s visit comes at a time of renewed hope and optimism in the Middle East. Israel is committed to doing everything in its power to seize the current window of opportunity in order to bring an end to terror, and a return to the political dialogue needed for peace. It is crucial that all relevant parties make a similar effort.
In this context, we welcome the return this week of Jordan’s Ambassador to Israel and the imminent return of the Ambassador of Egypt. We believe that now is the time for other Arab countries also to join the momentum, so that all the peoples of the region will benefit.
Once again, let me say how pleased I am to welcome the Director General here to Israel, and to have this opportunity to work together with him to promote the important and growing ties between Israel and NATO.