NATO Upgrades Israel's Status Amid Mounting Regional Threats

  • Step may help Netanyahu deflect criticism Israel isolated
  • Could also be a sign of improving Israel-Turkey relations

NATO has upgraded its ties with Israel, tightening its cooperation with the Jewish state amid mounting instability in the Middle East.

Israel will now be able to open offices at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Brussels and complete a credentialing process for its representatives, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. The step is “important” and will help boost Israeli security, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“This is additional testimony to the status of Israel and the desire of many to cooperate with us in the security domain,” he said.

The NATO upgrade may help Netanyahu deflect criticism that his nation is being isolated by international allies due to lack of progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians. It could also be a sign that Turkey, which has used its NATO membership to block the step in the past, is ready to patch up a six-year rift with Israel.

Asked at a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday whether Turkey was lifting its veto in NATO regarding Israel, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed support for the upgrade and said Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain should get similar treatment. “This isn’t just Israel, the same right needs to be given to all the southern partners,” he said.

While Israel is not a member of the 28-country alliance, it has participated in its Mediterranean Dialogue program since its establishment in 1994. It signed a security agreement with the alliance in 2001, is an associate member of the NATO parliamentary assembly and has taken part in joint military exercises with the organization.

Ties with Turkey unraveled in 2010 after a deadly Israeli naval raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded compensation for the deaths and an end to the Gaza embargo. Both sides have reported progress in recent talks to resolve the dispute.

“This is probably the most substantive signal yet of a return to cooperation in Turkish-Israeli relations,” Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said in a phone interview.

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