France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland have launched an initiative to bring Israel into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance and the European Union before the end of the year – each out of its own particular interests.
They are planning to call likeminded European leaders together before the end of the year to back the move to invite Israel to join both organizations.
A high-ranking Italian diplomat familiar with the initiative told DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources that the heads of the four European governments agree that Israel has more to contribute to NATO than Ukraine or Georgia.
Secret negotiations are already afoot. Asked where they stand now, the diplomat said the prime movers had reached the point of laying the groundwork for a formal conference in Brussels between senior NATO and EU officials and their Israeli counterparts. Paris, Rome, Prague and Warsaw say the door is open; it is Israel’s turn to decide whether to walk through.
Washington would come in at some point of the NATO discussions, but for now, no American players are visible. This is remarkable because it would be the first time in its sixty-year history that Israel has engaged in a major diplomatic venture without US participation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly confirms the venture is purely-European; neither the French, Italians, Czechs, Poles, or the Israelis have so far brought the Americans into the picture
A French official commented: Our exploratory talks with the Israelis are not shrouded in secrecy – the Americans know what is going on. But we not have reported to them or asked for their advice.
Our European and Israeli sources name the ten leading European figures driving the effort to bring Israel into their fold:
France: Sarkozy and Kuchner
French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a longstanding believer in the desirability of an Israeli role in the defense of West Europe and its entitlement to a guarantee for its own security.
He was even more convinced when Israel began sharing intelligence on Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. In his speeches, the French president advocates diplomacy and sanctions to solve the nuclear impasse with Tehran. But in private, he voices his anxiety and belief that a nuclearized Iran would ignite World War III.
He and foreign minister Bernard Kouchner are further motivated by their disenchantment with Syria’s president Bashar Assad. After making a supreme effort to draw him away from his radical, anti-West ties, they realized belatedly that he never intended abandoning his alliance with Iran, or supporting Sarkozy’s pet venture, the Mediterranean Union, which was designed to build a bridge between the West and the Middle East.
“At this point in time, that ideal is out of reach,” said a French official close to the president.
When Sarkozy grasped this, he turned back to his old idea of bringing Israel into NATO and Europe.”
The Czech Republic: Links to the US missile shield
Prime minister Mirek Topolanek and foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg also believe Israel could bring great benefit to the two organizations.
Prague and Jerusalem have quietly developed and deepened their strategic and military ties in the last couple of years, drawn together largely by the controversial American anti-missile radar facilities President George W. Bush aims to install in East Europe.
They also work together on preventive measures against Islamist terror.
Their military exchanges with Washington and Jerusalem have revealed to the Czechs that the US radar station to be installed in their country will be connected to the US and Israeli radar and anti-missile systems deployed in Israel.
They therefore perceive Israel, rather than the Czech Republic, to be the first line of defense against Middle East missile threats.
Furthermore, like Poland, repository of the second half of the US missile shield, the Czech Republic has no Muslim minority. Therefore, any Islamist terrorist threat to the country would derive from its military bonds with the United States. This conclusion has led Prague into an intelligence-sharing arrangement with Jerusalem as a counter-terror defense mechanism.
The Czech army is also on Israel’s export list for cutting-edge weaponry, including electronic warfare systems and missiles.
Poland: A stronger shield against Russia
President Lech Kaczynski, prime minister Donald Tusk and foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski are all eager to welcome Israel to NATO and the EU. Polish-Israeli military and intelligence ties are older and deeper than the link between the Czech Republic and Israel, and are based on close cooperation.
Poland uses Israeli military and security electronic systems to strengthen its defense shield against Russia and separate it from the rest of East Europe. This barrier is central to Warsaw’s self-perception as a part of West Europe rather than the East.
Italy: A pact with Israel against Islam’s spread
Unlike his EU colleagues, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi makes no bones about admitting that Italy’s pact with Israel is the first line of defense against the spread of Islamic extremism to his country and the rest of West Europe.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that Berlusconi has assigned two senior ministers with promoting Israel’s admission to NATO and the EU: Foreign minister Franco Frattini and the president of the Italian Parliament Gianfranco Fin, himself an ex-foreign minister.
Since Berlusconi returned to power a year ago, the Rome government has moved further right than the Bush administration and Washington’s neocons, according to a Western source familiar with the complexities of Italian politics. For instance, while Bush advocates a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian dispute, the Italian prime minister favors two democracies for the two peoples – or no Palestinian state at all.
On NATO, Israel is on the horns of a dilemma
Once upon a time, Israel would have jumped at the chance of joining either of these world organizations – especially when the first Cold War ranged the Soviet Union behind the pan-Arab wars against the Jewish State. But in those days, membership was not on offer.
Today, historical change has left Israel in two minds.
Iran’s Islamic revolution and race for a nuclear bomb, combined with its expansionist support for radical proxies and alliances, have altered the face of the Middle East and the shape of Israel’s enemies.
Given the posture adopted by West in response to these changes forces, Israel prefers to keep its options unencumbered.
Furthermore, Israel’s special relations with Washington are in an uncertain phase: The US presidency is in transition, Israel is groping in the dark for its next prime minister, and its traditional bond with American Jewry is weakening.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Jerusalem sources disclose that a team of political, military and intelligence experts set up by Israeli government is considering the merits and drawbacks of NATO and EU membership and the effect on its regional and world standing.
They have not yet reached a decision. The majority inclines to emphasize the downside of joining the North Atlantic Treaty, while strongly favoring Israel’s acceptance of European Union membership.
The minority support among the experts for NATO membership rests on a variety of factors:
– It would give Israel an international umbrella against an Iranian nuclear threat and, better still, deter Iran from launching an attack without careful forethought.
– Hitherto closed markets would open up for Israel’s most advanced military hardware.
– NATO might undertake security functions in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As one Israeli military expert put it, better NATO troops than an inter-Arab force.
– In the cold war climate clouding US-Russian relations – and Moscow’s choice of the Middle East as a theater of conflict by establishing bases in Syria – a NATO shield would be a valuable strategic asset which Israel should think twice before rejecting.
The anti-NATO school
The key countervailing argument put forward by a majority of the brains trust panelists is that, in the Middle East minefield it inhabits, Israel cannot afford an external connectedness that would entangle its freedom of military action.
They defend this argument by quoting Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty:
The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter will assist the party of parties so attacked, individually and in concert with the other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
This group picks the text to pieces as a guarantee for Israel’s survival:
It provides no ironclad assurances of fellow members rendering military assistance if Israel were to be caught up in another comprehensive Middle East war.
Al the treaty’s military actions are contingent on UN and Security Council resolutions, two bodies which are numerically and inherently biased against the Jewish state. Both would automatically deny Israel’s right to act militarily in self-defense. For instance, as a member of NATO, Israel would not have been able to carry out its pre-emptive strike against the Syrian-Iranian-North Korean reactor in northern Syria last September.
Another counter argument is that NATO lacks a single common theme; the areas of controversy among its members are broader than their consensus. Their internal squabbles were conspicuous in the crisis over the Russian-Georgian conflict.
They add that the soft alliance core owes much to the weakness of its secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and his uncertain hand on the helm.
Compared with NATO, the Israel advisory panel is a lot more enthusiastic about joining Europe. As an exporter, Israel would profit from the perks of EU membership and the availability of its markets at a time that its senior trading partner, America, is crippled by financial woes
To stay ahead of outside competition, Israel’s cachet hi-tech industries must work hard and find substantial investment capital.
Unlike the United States, Europe’s potential has not been fully mined, either as an export market or the source of investment capital. Israeli economic experts are preparing the country to weather the slowdown in US investments by looking to Europe as the obvious replacement.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Paris and Rome report that the two governments differ in their approach on how the Israeli EU membership initiative should be managed. Both would like a counterweight to offset charges of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bias.
Sarkozy proposes pairing the invitation to Israel to join NATO and the EU with matching offers to Morocco, to be joined over a period of years by the other francophone Maghreb countries, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania.
Berlusconi is firmly opposed to the co-option of Muslim North African nations to these organizations, arguing that the connections would not work out – excepting only in the case of Libya.