BRUSSELS, Belgium — The head of NATO called for ramped up ties with Israel Tuesday, as President Rueven Rivlin visited the alliance’s headquarters ahead of the creation of a mission for the Jewish state there.
The new mission had been discussed for several years but was held up by opposition from Turkey, a key NATO member which is reportedly on the verge of normalizing ties with Israel, once its close regional ally, top officials said Tuesday.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Israel had been an active alliance partner for 20 years and now it was “essential” to step up cooperation and go a step further.
“Violence in North Africa and in the Middle East is a clear threat to all our nations…. It is vital that countries which share the same values … stand together against hate and terrorism,” Stoltenberg told reporters alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at NATO headquarters.
Rivlin said opening the mission “will help Israel and NATO in strengthening our cooperation and our good relations. It will help us share best practices and information.”
“In the Middle East, the winds of hatred blow stronger than ever (and) events in one region affect the rest of world,” he said.
Opening of the mission had been stymied by Turkey, a key regional ally of Israel until 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship participating in a flotilla bound for Gaza, leaving 10 activists dead after the boarding was met with violent opposition.
The commandos boarded the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, which was the only vessel in the flotilla to ignore repeated calls to halt, and were attacked with clubs and metal bars as they hit the deck. Nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara were killed in the ensuing fighting, with a tenth later dying of his wounds, sparking a bitter diplomatic crisis. Several IDF soldiers were seriously wounded in the fighting aboard the ship.
The raid led to years of recriminations but in December, Turkey and Israel held talks on a rapprochement.
Reports in Turkey on Tuesday said the two would announce the normalization of ties on Sunday, with two key Ankara conditions — an apology and compensation for the raid — largely met.
The third condition, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, remains to be resolved.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said “definitive progress” had been made but “the agreement has not reached a final point.”
“God willing, it will head toward a final point in a direction we want. Turkey is not at a point of making concessions,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.