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Deputy foreign minister looks to better NATO ties

Ze’ev Elkin meets with deputy general-secretary of north Atlantic organization, hopes to install an Israeli representative

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (right) meets with Deputy Secretary-General of NATO Alexander Vershbow, in Israel, Jan 16, 2014. (photo credit: Noa Arad/Foreign Ministry)
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (right) meets with Deputy Secretary-General of NATO Alexander Vershbow, in Israel, Jan 16, 2014. (photo credit: Noa Arad/Foreign Ministry)

Israel is enjoying an upswing in relations with NATO, reversing the downward trend of past years, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Thursday while meeting with the alliance’s deputy chief.

He added that there was a possibility Israel could even be invited to have a representative in the North Atlantic military pact.

Elkin met with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow on Thursday to discuss cooperation between the organization and Israel.

“In contrast to a decline in relations in recent years there has been a significant improvement in the last year,” Elkin said. “We are interested in getting the situation back to the way it was and to even broaden the range of matters that NATO and Israel join forces on, including having an Israeli representative at NATO.”

Vershbow agreed that there was mutual interest in improving cooperation and that it was a high priority.

On Wednesday, Vershbow told a security forum at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) that Turkey was satisfied with NATO assertions that a missile defense system on its territory would not be used to defend Israel, Reuters reported.

“I think that there was misperception that somehow the NATO system would be focused on the protection of Israel and that Israeli-based assets would be part of the NATO system, whereas in fact these are two separate issues,” Vershbow said. “So I think that issue has receded. It may still be a problem among some parts of Turkish public opinion, but I think Turkey is now as a government supportive of missile defense.”

A 2010 US diplomatic cable that was leaked described how Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was concerned that the NATO radar system could also warn Israel of an Iranian attack. In particular, Turkey was worried about the missile tracking radar that is similar to another US radar system based in Israel’s Negev desert.

Although Israel once enjoyed a strong military alliance with Turkey, relations between the two countries became bitter following the Israel 2008-2009 incursion into the Gaza Strip and the Mavi Marmara ferry incident the next year, during which nine Turkish citizens died when Israel commandos boarded the ferry as it tried to break the sea blockade on Gaza.

In 2011 Turkey agreed to allow the NATO radar to be stationed on its soil. Russia has protested the establishment of the anti-missile system in such a strategic location, despite Western assurances that it is not intended to defend against Russian rocket capabilities.

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