Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NATO, Israel Draw Closer

WSJ.com - Thinking Global :: Mideast Tumult Forces Rethinking Of Alliances, but Hurdles Loom: "The idea is as logical as it is radical: The notion of Israeli membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is bubbling to the surface after recent events that have crystallized the threats to Israel and how common they are to the dangers confronting the U.S. and Europe.

Iran's accelerated race to develop nuclear weapons, the electoral triumph of Hamas -- the Palestinian group committed to destroying Israel -- and the violent reaction to Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad have galvanized those who want the West to respond firmly and visibly to an escalating threat from Islamist extremism.

The majority of NATO's 26 members still firmly opposes Israeli membership as too polarizing both within the organization and among Mideast players. Belgium and France, for example, are far from ready for territorial defense of Tel Aviv. For their part, Israeli leaders, after years of self-reliance, are divided on whether to trust any security guarantee other than their own -- particularly if it comes from Europeans, whom Israelis consider traditionally pro-Arab and historically anti-Semitic.

Yet membership or not, three recent developments are driving an ever-closer relationship between the world's mightiest and most successful security organization and the Mideast's most threatened and militarily capable country. By this spring, senior alliance officials say, Israel is likely to sign a historic Individual Cooperation Program with NATO encompassing commitments that include counterterrorist-intelligence gathering, military cooperation and civil-emergency planning."

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