Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar said Israel is needed by the European Union, in an address at the British House of Commons last week.
At an event co-sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society think-tank and his own foundation, the Friends of Israel Initiative, Aznar said, “Simply put, Europe must defend Israel if we want to preserve the West as we know it.”
“Look at the changes sweeping the region,” Aznar said. “Uncertainty is the dominant factor. And Israel is both more important to the West today – and more besieged by hostility – than at any time in recent memory.”
His speech described the many avenues of collaboration between Israel and the European Union outside of the political realm, including co-operation in defense, commerce and scientific advancement, as detailed in a monograph he published called, ’Value Added: Israel’s Strategic Worth to the European Union and its Member States,’ produced jointly by the two groups.
“Indeed, when considering the full picture of the strategic relationship (including not just diplomacy, but the equally critical realms of security; economy; and science) the close nature of the EU-Israel alliance becomes clear. Not only is Israel’s relationship with the EU and its member states closer than commonly portrayed, but, in the final analysis, it represents a strategic asset to the Union and its members. We in the EU will be unable to emerge from our present crises safe, prosperous, innovative and influential without strong state-to-state relations at home, and healthy alliances with strategic partners in our neighborhood.”
“We must start by acknowledging and enhancing our critical strategic relationship with the State of Israel. The EU has only to escape from the childish temptation of almost constant condemnation of Israel, and think as we do in our report about the specific gains that we are getting from Israel. It is in the self-interest of Europeans to treat Israel with fairness and kindness.”
In the report, on defense issues, Israel was lauded as the world’s sixth-largest exporter of military and security equipment, as the first country in the world to produce unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), and today as the world’s leading producer of UAVs. British, Spanish and troops of other EU states have been protected by Israeli drones in Afghanistan.
Israeli technology protects European icons including the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, and it has world-class intelligence capabilities. Israel’s intelligence on Middle Eastern rogue states and terrorist groups (particularly Hezbollah) is crucial to the security of the EU, which faces many of the same threats.
In commerce, the EU is Israel’s leading source of imports and second-leading export destination after the United States. Israel is the EU’s top commercial partner in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The total trade relationship between the EU and Israel is roughly €30 billion. Israel has weathered the global economic crisis far better than any EU state, and is third worldwide in terms of projected growth. Having recently discovered large natural gas fields, Israel offers Europe stability in its energy economy and is a solid alternative to the unreliable and authoritarian regimes of Russia and the Persian Gulf states.
In the areas of science and technology, Israel has over the last two decades become a high-tech and innovation powerhouse: Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country outside North America; it has the third-highest rate of entrepreneurship worldwide; 11% of the nearly 300 projects approved by the European Research Council in 2013 went to young Israeli scientists, putting it behind only Germany and the UK.
Aznar said his report recommends that due to its Western culture and the benefits it brings the European Union, Israel should become a full member of the EU without pre-conditions.
Recent discriminatory measures only serve to confirm Israeli suspicions of European hostility, Aznar said.
Europe and Israel have clashed over the alleged disproportionality of Israel’s military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, and its continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2013, the European Commission set guidelines prohibiting EU funds from going to Israeli entities beyond the country’s pre- 1967 ‘Green Line’ boundary. Palestinian incitement is not condemned by the EU as are Israeli settlements. This perception of hostility could mean Israelis will become more inclined to do business with the growing economies of the Far East rather than the EU.
During questions, Aznar argued that while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s new Mideast peace initiative is promising, it is unfair and unthinkable for Israel to sign an agreement with a state that refuses to acknowledge the Jewish state’s right to exist. Europe must defend Israel if we want to preserve the West and its way of life. Israel’s relationship with the EU and its member states is closer than commonly portrayed, and Israel is an enormously valuable asset to Europe. For the EU’s sake, this strategic relationship must be not only acknowledged but enhanced, Aznar said.
“I have long believed that Israel needs dedicated friends defending it from unjust and mistaken campaigns against its legitimacy,” he said.
“Four years ago I decided it was time to take this stand forcefully, publicly and effectively. I called upon a number of friends— some Nobel Prize winners, Like Lord Trimble of Northern Ireland, some former presidents like me, like Luis Alberto Lacalle from Uruguay and Alejandro Toledo from Peru and some foreign ministers as well, like Alexander Downer from Australia or my friend and hero the late Vaclav Havel, among others—to establish a high-level group dedicated to fighting the growing chorus trying to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
“We work to show Israel as a normal country, with all the virtues and imperfections of any democratic country in the world. This is not to say that friends should avoid criticizing each other, but I believe the international community – and especially Europe – has an obligation to manage its conversation with Israel in a far more honorable and open‐minded manner.”
“The Initiative is neither a public relations campaign, nor a so-called Jewish lobby,” Aznar said. “Most of us are not Jewish, but we share the vision – as much one of values as of strategy – that when defending Israel we are defending the West. We are defending our way of life and values, and also our interests.”
Aznar, a former tax inspector who led Spain’s conservative Popular Party in government for two terms, reformed the Spanish economy through privatizing state monopolies and bringing Spain’s grey market onto the books. He also brought Spain into international focus by backing UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George Bush in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
But his final days in office were marred by the 2004 Al Qaeda terrorist attack that sought to destabilize the Allies’ resolve in Iraq, with the death of nearly 200 Spaniards at a Madrid train station enough to push voters in the impending general election towards supporting the Socialist Workers Party candidate, who had vowed to withdraw Spanish troops from the conflict.
Out of office, Aznar, whose cabinet had insisted the terror attack was the work of ETA, Spain’s domestic terror threat that fights Madrid for Basque independence, became a scholar of the religious war engulfing the West, emerging as a strong supporter of Israel. A visiting professor at Georgetown University, Aznar led the creation of the Friends of Israel Initiative in 2010.