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Israel and NATO – Between Membership and Partnership

MADRID – The idea of integrating Israel into NATO has frequently been advanced as bait to encourage the Jewish state to make the necessary concessions for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. And some Israeli leaders – Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, for example – are convinced that joining NATO would act as a vital deterrent against Iran.

But it is highly unlikely that Israel’s full integration into the Alliance is feasible from NATO’s standpoint. The Alliance would not be happy to apply Article 5 of the NATO charter, which would oblige its members to fight for Israel if it were attacked by any of its many potential enemies in an endemically dangerous region.

Nor is it clear that membership would be in the best interest of Israel, a country whose defense doctrine has been always based on self-reliance and freedom of maneuver in security matters. Israel’s unwritten alliance with the United States is a more convenient alternative.

Cooperation and even partnership with NATO – an interim stage potentially leading to membership – is another matter. Notwithstanding the stalled peace process and the adverse effect that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is having on its international standing, NATO and Israel have been incrementally strengthening their cooperation in recent years. This serves the interests of both sides.