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Israeli and North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials say Israel will dispatch a warship to join a NATO naval force, marking an upgrade in ties.

An Israeli missile ship will join NATO's Active Endeavor naval force, which works to prevent the passage of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction as well as improve the security of the region's shipping industry.

Defense officials say Israel already has a liaison officer with the naval force. They say the dispatch of the ship within months marks an important step up in Israel's relationship with the NATO alliance.

The move was discussed this week by Israel's military chief of staff and NATO's visiting military commander, Giampaolo Di Paola.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Friday the alliance separates such activities from political events in the Middle East.

In July Haaretz reported that Israel was to issue a request to allow it to join NATO's Active Endeavor naval force.

While Israel is not a member of NATO, other non-members are taking part in the operation, including ships from Russia and Ukraine.

It was reported that a solution would be found to avoid Israeli ships approaching the shores of Arab countries, particularly those with which Israel has no diplomatic relations - including Syria, Lebanon and certain North African countries.

The intent is for an Israeli gunboat to occasionally join one of the month-long operations of Active Endeavour, which has been underway since 2001.

Israel would not require major preparation to join the NATO operation, and its delegation would focus on control and monitoring procedures, as well as coordination of communications terminology.

Sources in the army view joining the operation as important both in terms of stepping up Israel's relations with NATO, as well as its image - as Israel is often accused of aggression in enforcing the siege on Gaza by sea.