.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

NATO invites Israel to joint military, anti-terror exercises

BRUSSELS - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has suggested that the Israel Defense Forces, for the first time, take part in multinational military exercises and participate in anti-terror activities such as patrols in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
NATO is also considering sending forces to the Gaza Strip after Israel implements the disengagement plan, if Israel and the Palestinian Authority reach an agreement on the withdrawal and ask for NATO help.

A military summit was to be held in Brussels on Wednesday, with the participation of the chiefs of staff of 26 NATO members and countries that have ties with the organization. For the first time, Israel will send a senior IDF representative to the summit: operations directorate chief Major General Yisrael Ziv, who was sent at the last minute in place of Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon.

NATO plans to upgrade what it calls the 'Mediterranean dialogue' it is conducting with Israel and six Muslim nations: Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauretania. This means that policy discussions will be conducted by leaders of a higher rank, and that the level of joint military operations will be raised through coordinated military exercises, the war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and joint planning for civilian disaster readiness.

The IDF's first-ever role in NATO military exercises is part of the organization's decision to invite the armies of the 'Mediterranean dialogue' countries to take part in the exercises.

Seven exercises were proposed to the IDF, including training that will take place in Ukraine in June. NATO sources said experience has taught that it is worthwhile to start with sending officers from countries new to alliance activities to view multinational operations as a way of learning the methods.

Diplomatic, not just military, dialogue is also on the agenda. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was invited to participate with his colleagues from the other 'dialogue' nations, in a meeting with the NATO foreign ministers council which will meet in Brussels next month.