Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Wednesday that Israel would upgrade its ties with the 28-member NATO military alliance by opening a permanent mission to its Brussels headquarters. The move comes as NATO member Turkey reportedly agreed to end its objection to closer links to the Jewish state.
“I announce that Israel will accept the invitation; we will open an office soon,” he said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
“I think that this is also an important expression of Israel’s standing in the world. The countries of the world are looking to cooperate with us due to – inter alia – our determined fight against terrorism, our technological know-how and our intelligence services,” Netanyahu added, according to a translation released by his office.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that NATO had invited the Jewish state to “open an office at NATO headquarters in Brussels and complete the process of accrediting its representatives to NATO.”
On Wednesday, NATO issued a statement averring that “the North Atlantic Council has agreed to accept the request that an official Israeli Mission be established at NATO headquarters. The Ambassador of Israel to Belgium will therefore be the head of the mission of Israel to NATO.
“Israel is a very active partner of the Alliance as a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, established in December 1994,” the statement continued. “NATO has invited all partners to open diplomatic missions to the Headquarters of the Atlantic Alliance in Brussels.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon corrected the NATO statement, telling The Times of Israel that Israel’s Ambassador to the EU David Walzer, and not its envoy to Belgium, Simona Frankel, would head the mission to NATO.
An Israeli expert told AFP that the invitation was a result of pressure by other NATO members on Turkey, which joined in 1952, to drop its veto on closer alliance ties with its former ally.
“It’s a Turkish confidence-building measure vis-a-vis Israel,” said Tommy Steiner, an expert on NATO-Israel ties at the Institute for Policy and Strategy near Tel Aviv.
“Since the introduction of the new [NATO] partnership policy in 2014 Israel was formally invited,” he said. “But Israel never did that because there was a Turkish veto on such a measure.”
Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the rise of the Islamic AKP party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Already chilly ties were all but severed between the countries in 2010 over clashes between Israeli commandos and passengers aboard the blockade-busting Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, which left 10 Turkish activists dead and several IDF soldiers wounded.
After years of acrimony, the two sides began secret talks in December on a rapprochement, with another round taking place in February in Geneva.
Steiner said that the geographically and politically diverse NATO alliance would not invite Israel into a full-fledged mutual-defense pact.
“Israel is not going to be a full member, it’s not on the cards,” he said. “Israel will be officially accredited to NATO, it will have a permanent mission at NATO headquarters as a partner.”
Israel already participates in military exercises with NATO members other than Turkey, notably the United States.