Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NATO Seeks Closer Ties With Israel

By Yaakov Katz, The Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post
February 21, 2006

Israel stepped up its relationship with NATO on Monday and received a delegation of multinational military officers who accompanied an AWAC early warning surveillance plane which they brought to demonstrate to the Israel Air Force.

Head of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force Gen. Axel Tuttelman said the AWAC plane, which contained unique surveillance capabilities, was brought to Israel as part of a larger effort to enhance security cooperation between NATO and Israel in the war on global terrorism.

Tuttelman said his unit was frequently called into action and was currently involved in running surveillance over the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

While the United States and Israel have yet to decide if they would launch a military offensive against Iran, Tuttelman told The Jerusalem Post that if NATO was involved his forces would be the first to be called up.

"We would be the first to be called up if the NATO Council decided we should be," he said during a tour of the AWAC plane parked in an IAF base in the center of the country. NATO's early warning force, Tuttelman said, was involved in NATO's most recent large military offensive in Kosovo.

Made up of 17 aircraft, the unit had over 3,000 hours of flying time and was capable of spending 10 hours in the air without refueling, he said.

Israel is a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - a 10-year-old forum for political consultations and practical cooperation between countries of the Mediterranean area including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan.

"We hope the visit will strengthen links and intensify cooperation with Israel," Tuttelman said, adding that NATO's interests in Israel were political and not military and were meant to enhance the joint effort in combating terrorism.

Two weeks ago, Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino was quoted as calling for Israel to be given NATO membership. The recommendation was quickly dismissed, however, by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said: "The issue of Israeli membership is not on the table."

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