BRUSSELS — In the cold wind blowing at NATO headquarters on the outskirts of the Belgian capital, the British flag is flying at half mast today, alongside the flags of all the other member states of the alliance. That image of mourning over the attacks in London and Manchester is a symbolic testimony of the influence terror is exerting on Europe. That impact is also the reason for NATO’s growing interest in learning from Israel and specifically seeking practical ways to transfer the accumulated knowledge of the Israeli army and intelligence community in dealing with terror.
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Six months after the Turkish ambassador was returned to Israel, supporters of the agreement with Ankara within Israel’s defense establishment are starting to see the realization of one of the goals of the accord: The rehabilitation and improvement of political and military ties with NATO, which Turkey had tried to prevent in the previous six years.
The attacks by the Islamic State in Western Europe are spurring NATO to draw on Israel’s experience with counter-terrorism.
Israel is one of over 40 states with partnership status in NATO. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and other high-ranking NATO officers including the Czech General Petr Pavel, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, recently visited Israel.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway is expected to visit Israel in the coming months and to meet with the prime minister, the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. This week there were periodical discussions at NATO headquarters in Brussels with a Defense Ministry department head, Col. (ret.) Uri Neeman, and an official in the General Staff Planning Directorate. The inclusion of NATO issues in the North American division, despite the fact that 26 of the members of the alliance are located in Europe and all the decisions require general consent, reflects the centrality of Israeli-American relations in this context as well.
The Israeli army’s relations with NATO became closer after 9/11 but they have been relatively stagnant in recent years, even though relations with individual member countries have not suffered.
A year ago, with the removal of the Turkish veto of closer Israeli relations with the alliance, Secretary General Stoltenberg announced the opening of an Israeli office at NATO headquarters, but it is not yet fully functional. At the moment it is being run by Foreign Ministry employees stationed at the Israeli headquarters for the European Union and NATO, headed by Ambassador Roni Leshno-Yaar. The transfer of IDF attache in Holland, Col. Arik Chen, from The Hague to Brussels is under consideration.
Not all NATO members have close security ties with Israel outside the alliance. But recently, Israel’s defense establishment has noted increasing interest in cooperation with the IDF in building the strength of the alliance in the areas of counter-terrorism (which NATO has yet to define as a core task), defending borders and security on the home front.
There is also a move toward renewing participation of Israel in NATO operations. Specifically, 2018 is expected to see a renewal of Israel Navy craft participation in NATO patrols against terror and the smuggling of war materiel in the Mediterranean (Sea Guardian) — which were frozen due to the tension with Turkey. One of the constraints that has yet to be solved: The Israel Navy’s allocation of a missile boat, from its limited array of forces, to the operation.
Israel and Turkey reached a reconciliation agreement a year ago, ending a six-year diplomatic rift, sparked by the killing of Turkish nationals during an Israeli military raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May 2010.