Israel, it seems, is never far from the headlines. Whether it’s Israel’s controversial settlement policies in the West Bank, historically prickly relations with regional actors that have occasionally escalated into war or complex entanglement with the U.S., the country has a knack for garnering attention.
In 1989, Israel was designated a major non-NATO ally. (MNNA) This status is granted by the U.S. government to close allies who have strategic working relationships with America’s armed forces, but are not members of NATO.
Is Israel a strategic asset or liability for NATO? Our program editors weigh in below.
Adam Feldman: Asset and Liability
Although not part of NATO, Israel is its most reliable ally in the Middle East. The record of cooperation is difficult to dispute. Israel’s relationship with the U.S. is particularly close. The collaboration between the two extends from economics to intelligence sharing. The most powerful foreign policy lobbyists in Washington are making sure the connection stays strong.
In light of this, it is critical for close friends to speak frankly with one another. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has faced many security concerns. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is a cause of consternation. The international community often looks to Fatah, which controls the West Bank, when thinking of a Palestinian authority. Its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Israeli counterpart claim to be pursuing a solution to the unsettled state of affairs.
Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank (formerly claimed by Egypt and Jordan, respectively) dates back to its success in the Six Day War of June 1967. The borders have been in constant flux. There has been finger-pointing from both sides, but Israel has the stronger hand. The 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict showcased the disparity in strength quite crudely.
Netanyahu’s safety concerns should not prevent him from pursuing negotiations in good faith. His settlement expansion erodes any prospect for peace. There is no justification for violence, but the rocket fire may be interpreted as a desperate rebuttal to the expansion.
The recent announcement that Avigdor Lieberman, a strident nationalist, has joined the coalition government as defense minister is troubling. Lieberman lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and has repeatedly ridiculed efforts to secure peace.
One may conclude there is no bona fide effort towards peace on part of the current Israeli administration, and it is in part liable for the dim prospects for peace.
Lira Loloci: A Strategically Important, Problematic Ally
Program Editor, Global Horizons
Israel is one of the biggest strategic assets of the U.S. It is true that it isn’t always easy being Israel’s ally. The country faces many challenges, starting from the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, internal socio-economic cracks, and voices around the world that deny its right to exist. Nonetheless, Israel continues to remain the only democratic country in the Middle East. Its past accomplishments in showing outstanding flexibility in the face of war and terrorism provide reason to believe that Washington can continue to count on its closest partner in the Middle East. Israel’s success in producing clean technologies, born out of necessity from living in a hot and dry environment, has also made important contributions to American water, food, and energy security.
When it comes to foreign affairs, rarely does the U.S help allies that do not provide something in return. Israel continues to help in dealing with traditional security threats. The two countries share intelligence on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and Middle Eastern politics.
Andi Asimetaj: A Liability, Indeed
Program Editor, Canada’s NATO
Israel is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. It lies at the conjunction of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. While the UN-sanctioned partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947 aimed to resolve a nagging dispute, this solution created land and settlement issues that persist to this day. At the centre of the Israel/Palestine conflict lays the question of land and who rules it.
Geographically located to neighbours that are conflict-prone, Israel presents a challenge to NATO, as it is known to clash rather than prevent conflicts. Being in the middle of a contentious zone, NATO should be reluctant to sign on an ally that would frequently invoke Article 5. NATO’s mission is to maintain peace and security, and with the unresolved land settlement issues that Israel faces, this creates a risk for members of the alliance.
Israel is allied to NATO, and gets support in various areas, but at arm’s length. The implied mutual assistance obligation that NATO members have to each other makes Israel an unfavorable candidate for the same arrangement; its situation is too volatile and member countries do not want to get bogged down in Middle East conflicts. NATO aims to be impartial politically, but upholds democratic and human rights around the world. As Israel’s questionable foreign and military policies help fuel tensions in the Middle East, it would be inadvisable for NATO to ally too closely with it.
Marissa Young: An Asset, With Caution
Program Editor, Women in Security
Although Israel recently upgraded its ties with NATO, there have been various criticisms with respect to the Jewish state’s relationship with the organization. Additionally, Israel stands alone as the most Western-centric state in the Middle East, which counters the political, economic, and social status quo of the region. These similarities between Israel and NATO member states reaffirm its allied status and an asset within the organization.
However, despite Israel’s benefits as an ally, NATO should remain sceptical of the current Israeli government as a liability. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, Israel has been subjected to international criticism for its push towards the far right. Adding to the controversy, Moshe Yaalon’s recent resignation as defence minister due to concerns over Netanyahu’s shift towards the right sparked debate over the future of Israel and the extremist policies being set in place. Avigdor Lieberman, Yaalon’s successor, has a knack for using provocative and uncompromising methods in the Knesset.
These rightward shifts should not discourage the relationship between Israel and NATO. Since Israel’s 1989 designation as a major non-NATO ally, both parties have worked towards ensuring the relationship remains mutually beneficial. As assets, Israel and NATO have been successful for the past 27 years, and both parties should seek to continue strengthening their connection. Nonetheless, NATO must remain cautious over recent events within Israeli domestic politics that could edge Israel towards more of a liability.