Israel’s first ambassador to the 28-member NATO military alliance on Friday presented his credentials to its secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg as the Jewish state opened a permanent mission at the organization’s Brussels headquarters.
Israel is not a member of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known by its acronym NATO, but has enjoyed military cooperation with the body in a number of fields and is currently a partner of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program with seven friendly nations bordering on the waterway.
In a significant upgrading of ties, NATO announced in May it will recognize an official Israeli representative and the intergovernmental military alliance will grant Israel a permanent office at its headquarters in Brussels.
“The State of Israel attaches great importance to its relations with NATO and the opening of a permanent Israeli office at the Brussels headquarters is further proof of Israel’s international standing and its contributions to promoting regional peace and stability,” said the new ambassador, Aharon “Ronny” Leshno-Yaar on Friday.
Leshno-Yaar is also Israel’s ambassador to the European Union, responsible for relations between the Jewish state and the 28-member bloc. Before moving to Brussels, he served as Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, heading the UN and International Organizations Division. Prior, he was Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
Stoltenberg welcomed Israel’s upgraded role in NATO and he and Leshno-Yaar discussed plans to increase cooperation, according to a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
NATO currently has about 40 partner nations, including Australia, India, Japan, Pakistan and Russia. Its partnerships include ones with European non-NATO countries, the Mediterranean basin and Persian Gulf states.
NATO’s treaty requires the alliance to militarily defend members nations, of which there are 28, but not partner ones. Still, partner states regularly contribute to NATO operations such as those in Afghanistan and naval missions off Somalia and in the Mediterranean Sea.
The last expansion of the organization took place in December 2015 when NATO member states formally invited the tiny Adriatic nation of Montenegro to join the alliance in the face of Russian opposition.
The invitation set in motion the process to accept the first new member state since fellow Balkan countries Albania and Croatia were admitted in 2009.
In June, 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.
At the time, 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.
AFP, Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.