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First Visit of a NATO Secretary General in Israel

First Visit of a NATO Secretary General in Israel

The Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, paid an official visit to Israel on February 24, 2005. During the visit, the Secretary General of NATO met the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces Lt. General Moshe Ya’alon. Then,  Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also gave a speech at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.  Source: NATO, Brussels, Belgium (Press Release 2005-023).

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today in Israel, which as you know is a first for a NATO Secretary General, and to have the opportunity to address this distinguished audience. 

Just two days ago, NATO Heads of State and Government met in Brussels to discuss the way ahead for NATO and the wider transatlantic relationship.  They discussed a host of issues  from the recent positive developments in Ukraine to NATO’s support for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.  But they also spent considerable time discussing how to further deepen the ties between the Alliance and the Middle East.

It is not difficult to see why building closer relations between us has become a strategic imperative.  Our strategic environment is confronting us with new developments that are simply too powerful to be ignored:

  • First, the interplay of Middle Eastern and transatlantic security is becoming ever more evident. 

Demographics, economics, and energy needs create an ever-closer interdependence between us.  New threats  such as terrorism, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and transnational organised crime  affect us all and require a common response.  “9/11” and the Iraq crisis merely reinforced what we already knew: how this region will evolve will affect Euro-Atlantic security in a fundamental way.  So the Middle East and the transatlantic community are  to use a fashionable term  increasingly interdependent. 

  • Second, we are witnessing a new, and very positive, dynamic in the Middle East, even if huge challenges remain, as we were reminded by the murder of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Lebanon.

And experience in dealing with Middle East politics has taught me to be cautious. But the election of President Mahmoud Abbas, the recent Summit held in Sharm El Sheikh, the possible Gaza pullout decided by the Israeli government, and a renewed U.S. commitment have opened new prospects for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Libya is coming back from its self-imposed isolation.  The European Union, in close contact with the U.S., is addressing the International Community’s grave concerns on Iran’s nuclear activities and talking with this country on ways to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of its programme.  In Iraq, just a month ago, millions of Iraqis went to the ballot boxes and showed their determination to participate in building a new, democratic country. I hope this courageous first step will pave the way for a stable political environment in Iraq.

We must sustain this positive momentum.  Of course, from the outside we can only offer assistance. But it is equally clear that this outside engagement remains indispensable to sustain a positive dynamic over the longer term. And we all know the transatlantic community has been engaged for a long time in the Middle East, given the big stake it has in contributing to peace and stability in the region.

This brings me to the third development in the strategic environment that I would like to highlight  and that is the changing role of NATO. 

  • This Alliance is no longer the static organisation of the Cold War. 

In fact, the very moment the Cold War ended, that old NATO ceased to exist.  NATO today is an agent of political change. NATO enlargement has been a key factor in overcoming the division of Europe.  NATO’s cooperative mechanisms, such as Partnership for Peace, have turned this Alliance into the hub of a network of continent-wide cooperation  cooperation that encompasses the most diverse countries, from Switzerland to Uzbekistan.  And NATO’s military involvement in the Balkans has created the conditions for long-term stability and reconciliation in a troubled region.

  • The logic of change is also evident in NATO’s missions. 

In a world of “globalised insecurity”, a regional, Eurocentric approach simply no longer works.  We have to address security challenges when and where they emerge, or they will show up on our doorstep.  Obviously NATO does not aim to be a global policeman. We have neither the political will nor the means to do so. But if our vital interests are at stake and if there is consensus among Allies to act, then NATO has to be ready. That is why we are now engaged in peacekeeping in Afghanistan.  It is why we are conducting an anti-terrorist maritime operation in the Mediterranean.  And, last but not least, it is why NATO is now running a training mission in post-Saddam Iraq.  Because a stable, democratic Iraq is a linchpin in a more stable Middle East.

  • So change is the name of the game. 

And this change must also be reflected in NATO’s relationship with our Mediterranean Dialogue partners.  Here in Israel, I don’t have to explain the history of the Dialogue in any great detail.  Because from the moment we started this project ten years ago, Israel has been one of its most enthusiastic participants.  The initial aim of the Dialogue was to improve our mutual understanding, and to dispel misconceptions about NATO’s aims and policies.  And we had some success in doing that.

It is fair to say, however, that our Dialogue has not achieved its full potential so far.  And it is not difficult to guess that the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process has impacted on our relations.  As long as this process was stalled, cooperative outreach processes from NATO or the EU's Barcelona Process were going to suffer from a lack of trust. 

Despite the impact of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict however, we always made it quite clear that our Mediterranean Dialogue should be judged on its own merits.  That both sides of the Mediterranean face common challenges which require common responses.  That transparency and joint ownership is of the essence. And this message has started to resonate  also in many parts of the Arab world.

On that basis, last June, at NATO’s Istanbul Summit, we agreed, in close consultation with Israel and other partners in this process, to try to move our relationship to another level  in short, to move from dialogue to partnership.  We want to further intensify our political dialogue; to promote greater interoperability between our military forces; and to encourage greater cooperation on defence reform, as well as in the critical fight against terrorism.  These are all areas where we have a lot to offer to each other, and where working together is beneficial to us all. 

Since Istanbul, there have been more encouraging events.  Last December, the Ministers of our Mediterranean Dialogue partners came to NATO to discuss the way ahead.  This was a first, and highly symbolic.  But our discussions went beyond pro forma niceties.  We discussed, openly, all key security issues on our common agenda.  And the visits I have so far made in the region have also reinforced this trend.  The perception of NATO in the region has changed for the better, and there is a willingness to engage in concrete security-related discussions and cooperation.

I am happy to note that Israel has very recently stepped forward with a list of concrete proposals for enhancing our cooperation.  These proposals cover many areas of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism or joint military exercises, where Israel’s expertise is very much valued.  They underline your country’s desire for a strenghtened relation, and we are looking forward to working with Israel in the framework of an individual action programme.

NATO's outreach is certainly flexible enough to allow each partner to go its way, at its own rythm. So the stage is set for a more substantial cooperation between NATO and Israel. In doing so, we also want to make sure to keep everybody on board in this Dialogue and to take account of the overall even-handedness of the process at large. 
In that context, further positive developments in the Peace Process, as we seem to witness them now, should allow our nascent partnership to achieve its full potential, both in terms of bilateral and regional cooperation.

The enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue will go a long way towards putting the relationship between NATO and its Middle Eastern partners on a new footing.  At a certain stage if the current positive trend continues, Allies might also have to look into the possibility to extend this dialogue to others in the region.  In that regard, you will remember that NATO Heads of States and Government in Istanbul did not exclude, at some stage to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority under our initiatives, subject of course to an approval by the North Atlantic Council.

If long-term stability for the region is our common goal, we have to build bridges to the wider region as well.

This is what we are trying to do with our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Through the ICI, we have offered cooperation to countries of the broader region of the Middle East, starting with countries from the Gulf.  Right after we launched this initiative at our Summit last June, we received a lot of positive feedback.  And this was, quite frankly, no surprise.  Because in the Gulf region as well, there is a growing awareness that we face common challenges, and that we need to meet them together.  With Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar we have already moved to the stage where we are in the process of developing a programme of activities that will be open to them.  And I am sure that other countries will follow this example.

Coming back to the peace process, clearly, nobody can predict its outcome. And we should not predjudge anything, including about the need for or the modalities of an outside support to a peace agreement.  Furthermore, the responsibility for achieving peace and stability in the region lies first and foremost with the parties themselves.  In that context and within these parameters, the idea of a NATO assistance has been brought up.

I have stated many times the necessary preconditions before envisaging any NATO contribution. There would first have to be a lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, the parties concerned must be in favour of a NATO role in its implementation; and there would have to be a UN mandate.  These conditions do not yet exist.  For the time being, NATO lends its political support to the efforts by the Quartet to realise the goals of the “Roadmap”, which, again, should remain the immediate priority for the whole international community.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
As someone who has spent much of his political life dedicated to peace in the Middle East, I have learned to prefer modest and pragmatic steps over grand designs.  And I believe that this is the spirit that also characterises NATO’s current approach.  For countries willing to engage in cooperation with us, NATO has much to offer  and we now have the political and military links to organise our cooperation in the most effective way.  In an era that requires cooperation across continents, we must also build new ties across the Mediterranean Sea. That is why I am currently touring North Africa and the Middle East. That is why I am today in Israel.

Thank you very much.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).